Problem Drinking

It’s not always easy to see when your drinking has crossed the line from moderate or social use to problem drinking. If you drink alcohol to cope with problems or to avoid feeling bad, you may have a problem with alcohol. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can sneak up on you. It’s important to know the warning signs. If you have warning signs, take steps to cut back. Understanding the problem is the first step to overcoming it.

What is a Standard Drink?

A standard drink is equal to:
  • 12-ounces of beer (5% alcohol content).
  • 8-ounces of malt liquor (7% alcohol content).
  • 5-ounces of wine (12% alcohol content).
  • 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof (40% alcohol content) distilled spirits or liquor (for example, gin, rum, vodka, whiskey).

What is Problem Drinking?

Problem drinking is also known as heavy drinking. It is drinking more than a certain number of drinks in a day or in a week:

Men: more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks in one week.
Women: more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks in one week.

Why are the limits for men and women different? Women absorb and process alcohol differently than men. In general, women usually weigh less than men and that weight tends to be less water based than men.  Because of this, typically in women alcohol will go into the blood faster than that of men since there is less water to absorb the alcohol. After drinking the same amount of alcohol, the concentration of alcohol in a woman’s blood is higher.

Signs of Problem Drinking

Drinking is a problem if it causes trouble in your relationships, in school, in social activities or in how you think and feel. Even if you have symptoms, you can take steps to reduce your risk. In the last year, have you:
  • Felt guilty or ashamed about your drinking.
  • Lied to others or hide your drinking habits.
  • Have friends or family members who are worried about your drinking.
  • Needed to drink in order to relax or feel better.
  • “Black out” or forget what you did while you were drinking.
  • Regularly drink more than you intended to.
  • Drank more or longer than you intended.

There are different levels of severity for an alcohol use disorder. If you have signs of problem drinking, seek help with a mental health professional.

Learn more about the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, National Institutes of Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)