Alcohol: Am I Drinking Too Much?

How much is “too much”?
Drinking becomes too much when it causes or elevates the risk for alcohol-related problems or complicates the management of other health problems. According to epidemiologic research, men who drink 5 or more standard drinks in a day (or 15 or more per week) and women who drink 4 or more in a day (or 8 or more per week) are at increased risk for alcohol-related problems.

Individual responses to alcohol vary, however. Drinking at lower levels may be problematic depending on many factors, such as age, coexisting conditions, and use of medication. Because it isn’t known whether any amount of alcohol is safe during pregnancy, the Surgeon General urges abstinence for women who are or may become pregnant.

At-risk drinking and alcohol problems are common. About 3 in 10 U.S. adults drink at levels that elevate their risk for physical, mental health, and social problems. Of these heavy drinkers, about 1 in 4 currently has alcohol abuse or dependence.  All heavy drinkers have a greater risk of hypertension, gastrointestinal bleeding, sleep disorders, major depression, hemorrhagic stroke, cirrhosis of the liver, and several cancers.  Heavy drinking often goes undetected. In a recent study of primary care practices, for example, patients with alcohol dependence received the recommended quality of care, including assessment and referral to treatment, only about 10 percent of the time.

Treatment Options

Finding evaluation and treatment options
For patients with insurance, contact a behavioral health case manager at the insurance company for a referral.  For patients who are uninsured or underinsured, contact your local health department about addiction services.  For patients who are employed, ask whether they have access to an Employee Assistance Program with addiction counseling.

To locate treatment options in your area:

• Call local hospitals to see which ones offer addiction services.

• Call the National Drug and Alcohol Treatment Referral Routing Service

(1-800-662-HELP) or visit the Substance Abuse Facility Treatment

Locator Web site at http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov.

Finding support groups

Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) offers free, widely available groups of volunteers in recovery from alcohol dependence. Volunteers are often willing to work with professionals who refer patients. For contact information for your region, visit http://www.aa.org.

Other mutual help organizations that offer secular approaches, groups for women only, or support for family members can be found on the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information Web site (http://ncadi.samhsa.gov) under “Resources.”