Problem Drinking

Problem Drinking: How To Recognize It

Am I drinking too much?

YES, if you are:

  • A woman who has more than seven drinks* per week or more than three drinks per occasion
  • A man who has more than 14 drinks* per week or more than four drinks per occasion
  • Older than 65 years and having more than seven drinks* per week or more than three drinks per occasion

*–One drink = one 12-oz bottle of beer (4.5 percent alcohol) or one 5-oz glass of wine (12.9 percent alcohol) or 1.5 oz of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Am I drinking heavily?

YES, if you are:

  • A woman who has more than three drinks every day or 21 drinks per week
  • A man who has more than five drinks every day or 35 drinks per week

Am I taking risks with alcohol?

YES, if you:

  • Drink and drive, operate machinery, or mix alcohol with medicine (over-the-counter and prescription medicine)
  • Don’t tell your surgeon, physician, or pharmacist that you are a regular drinker
  • Are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant and drink at all (even small amounts of alcohol may hurt an unborn child)
  • Drink alcohol while you are looking after small children

Has my drinking become a habit?

YES, if you drink regularly to:

  • Relax, relieve anxiety, or go to sleep
  • Be more comfortable in social situations
  • Avoid thinking about sad or unpleasant things
  • Socialize with other regular drinkers

Is alcohol taking over my life?

YES, if you:

  • Ever worry about having enough alcohol for an evening or weekend
  • Hide alcohol or buy it at different stores so people will not know how much you are drinking
  • Switch from one kind of drink to another hoping that this will keep you from drinking too much or getting drunk
  • Try to get “extra” drinks at a social event or sneak drinks when others aren’t looking

Has drinking alcohol become a problem for me?

YES, if you:

  • Can’t stop drinking once you start
  • Have tried to stop drinking for a week or so but only quit for a few days
  • Fail to do what you should at work or at home because of drinking
  • Feel guilty after drinking
  • Find other people make comments to you about your drinking
  • Have a drink in the morning to get yourself going after drinking heavily the night before
  • Can’t remember what happened while you were drinking
  • Have hurt someone else as a result of your drinking

What can I do about drinking too much?

Try to cut down to safe drinking levels: less than seven drinks per week and less than three drinks per occasion for women and older people, and less than 14 drinks per week and less than four drinks per occasion for men.

How can I get help for an alcohol problem?

If you feel you need help to cut down, you can contact:

  • Your doctor for advice, treatment, or referral
  • Self-Help Support Groups
    Alcoholics Anonymous (AA); call your local chapter (check your local phone directory under “Alcoholism” or call 212-870-3400)

    Al-Anon (for spouses and other significant adults in an alcoholic person’s life) and Alateen (for children of alcoholics)
    Telephone: 1-800-344-2666

    Adult Children of Alcoholics
    Telephone: 1-310-534-1815

    SMART Recovery
    Telephone: 1-440-951-5357

    Women for Sobriety
    Telephone: 1-800-333-1606
  • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Call 1-800-662-HELP for information about local treatment programs and to speak to someone about your alcohol problem

For more information

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Public Information Office
Telephone: 1-301-443-386

National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
Telephone: 1-800-729-6686

National Association for Children of Alcoholics

This handout provides a general overview on this topic and may not apply to everyone. To find out if this handout applies to you and to get more information on this subject, talk to your family doctor.

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Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Permission is granted to print and photocopy this material for nonprofit educational uses. Written permission is required for all other uses, including electronic uses.