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Do you have a drinking problem?

Many people with alcohol problems cannot tell when their drinking is out of control. An important first step is to be aware of how much you are drinking and how your alcohol use may be harming your life and those around you.

One drink equals one 12-ounce can or bottle of beer, one 5-ounce glass of wine, 1 wine cooler, 1 cocktail, or 1 shot of hard liquor. Think about:

  • How often you have an alcoholic drink
  • How many drinks you have when you do drink
  • How any drinking you are doing affects your life or the lives of others

Alternative names

Alcohol use; Alcohol abuse; Alcoholism

Responsible drinking

Here are some guidelines for drinking alcohol responsibly, as long as you do not have a drinking problem.

Healthy men up to age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 4 drinks in 1 day
  • No more than 14 drinks in a week

Healthy women up to age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 3 drinks in 1 day
  • No more than 7 drinks in a week

Healthy women of all ages and healthy men over age 65 should limit themselves to:

  • No more than 3 drinks in 1 day
  • No more than 7 drinks in a week

When you start to drink too much

Doctors consider your drinking medically unsafe when you drink:

  • Many times a month, or even many times a week
  • 3 to 4 drinks (or more) in 1 day
  • 5 or more drinks on one occasion monthly, or even weekly

You can use the AUDIT-C questionnaire to help you decide if your drinking is risky. Your doctor can advise and help you cut down or even quit.

Knowing when you have a drinking problem

You may have a drinking problem if you have at least 2 of the following characteristics:

  • You do not do what you are expected to do (at home, work, or school) as a result of drinking.
  • You use alcohol in situations where your drinking could injure or endanger you or someone else.
  • You have trouble or conflict with your family, friends, or coworkers because of the effect alcohol has on you.
  • You need to drink more to get the same effect from alcohol.
  • You have not been able to cut down or stop drinking alcohol on your own, even though you've tried or you want to.
  • You have symptoms of withdrawal when you try to quit or cut down, such as tremors, sweating, nausea, or insomnia.
  • You crave alcohol, meaning you have a strong desire or urge to use it.
  • You continue to drink, even though alcohol is causing emotional or physical problems for you, or problems with your family, friends, or job.
  • You spend a lot of time drinking, thinking about drinking, or recovering from drinking.
  • You spend less time on other activities that used to be important or that you enjoyed.

When to call the doctor

If you or others are concerned, make an appointment with your doctor to talk about your drinking. Your doctor can help guide you to the best treatment.

Other resources include:

References

American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing. 2013.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol use disorder: a comparison between DSM-IV and DSM-5. November 2013. http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/dsmfactsheet/dsmfact.pdf. Accessed on May 11, 2014.

O'Connor PG. Alcohol abuse and dependence. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 32.

Sherin K, Seikel S. Alcohol use disorders. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 49.

Updated: 5/11/2014

Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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