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Do You Drink Too Much Alcohol?

To determine if you are drinking too much alcohol, you must understand the difference between moderate drinking and heavy drinking. Although “how much is too much” varies from person to person, if you are regularly drinking moderate to heavy amounts, it is probably too much.

Some doctors define light drinking as just over one (1.2) drink per day. Moderate drinking is just over two (2.2) drinks per day and heavy drinking is three and a half. People who consume 5.4 drinks or more per day are misusing alcohol.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines moderate drinking more conservatively. According to HHS, moderate drinking is defined as up to one drink for women and up to two drinks for men in a single day. Consuming more than this amount is considered excessive. 

What is Moderate Drinking?

Moderate drinkers avoid consuming excessive amounts of alcohol. This type of drinking implies reasonable limits and refers to a safe amount of alcohol to consume. 

In most cases, moderate drinking is low-risk in terms of health. 

Statistics show that only about 2 percent of people who limit their alcohol intake to moderate consumption have alcohol use disorder (AUD).

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What is NOT Moderate Drinking?

Heavy drinking and binge drinking are not considered forms of “drinking in moderation.” A binge is defined as four or more drinks for women and five or more drinks for men within 2 hours. Most binge drinkers have a pattern of indulging in high amounts of alcohol. However, even if it only happens once, it is still a binge. Recurrent binges qualify someone as a heavy drinker. 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), heavy drinking occurs when someone binges five or more times per month.

Binge Drinking Statistics

Binge drinking is a problem for people in the United States, especially college-aged people and young adults. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • 1 in 6 adults drinks seven or more drinks at least four times per month
  • The majority of binge drinkers range in age from 18 to 34. 
  • Older adults binge drink, but not as commonly as younger adults
  • There are 5 males for every 1 female binge drinker
  • The majority of under-age drinkers binge drink
  • The vast majority of U.S. adult heavy drinkers have binged in the last 30 days

15 Signs You're Drinking Too Much

Several factors may indicate that someone is drinking too much. If you are experiencing any of the following, it is time to evaluate your alcohol consumption:

  1. Drinking alcohol interferes with work or school
  2. You feel depressed when not drinking or after drinking
  3. You’re dishonest about how much you’re drinking or you hide your drinking
  4. You’re sleeping poorly
  5. You’ve tried to cut back or stop and failed
  6. Waking up with dry eyes and other symptoms of dehydration
  7. Stomach issues with no other explanation
  8. Mood swings or only feeling at ease when you’re drinking or know you will be drinking soon
  9. Forgetfulness
  10. High tolerance for alcohol – friends might describe you as being able to “handle” your alcohol
  11. You have physical cravings when not drinking
  12. You’ve been neglecting self-care and hygiene
  13. You experience withdrawal symptoms after drinking
  14. You experience symptoms of alcoholic ketoacidosis, such as abdominal pain, agitation, confusion, fatigue, slowed movement, irregular breathing, a loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and decreased alertness that can transition into a coma
  15. You’ve required medical attention for alcohol intoxication after excessive drinking

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Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

Symptoms of AUD include:

  • Tried to stop or reduce drinking and failed 
  • More time spent drinking over recovering from drinking 
  • Strong urges or cravings to drink
  • Inefficient at work and school
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inability to stop drinking despite physical, social, or interpersonal problems
  • Neglecting social life, activities, and hobbies
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur after drinking due to physical alcohol dependence

Health Risks of Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Heavy drinking behavior poses many health risks and increases your odds of developing a variety of health conditions including:

  • Higher odds of involvement in automobile and other accidents
  • Violence as a victim and against others
  • STDs
  • Unintended pregnancy
  • Creating or exacerbating chronic diseases
  • Eventual alcohol dependence
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatitis
  • Ulcers and other gastrointestinal issues
  • Certain types of cancer, including breast cancer and other cancers
  • Osteoporosis
  • Brain damage
  • Immune system dysfunction
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Heart disease
  • Cardiovascular issues
  • Problems with the central nervous system (CNS)

When to Seek Treatment for Alcoholism

Recognizing when it’s time to seek treatment for heavy alcohol consumption can be a life and death decision. Sometimes it requires intervention from loved ones, but some people understand on their own when it’s time. This is occasionally referred to as “rock bottom,” but a person shouldn’t wait to reach this point if they want to get sober.

Some of the most common signs that it is time to seek alcoholism treatment:

  • You have health problems that have no other root cause — Drinking too much causes a variety of health issues. If existing health issues have worsened or new health issues have arisen and you are also a heavy drinker, treatment can help.
  • Your relationships are strained due to drinking — If loved ones have expressed frustration or other negative emotions regarding how much alcohol you drink, it might be time to consider if they are right. You may also notice changes in relationships even if friends and family haven’t brought up any issues.
  • You’ve neglected responsibilities related to work, school, family, and more — Everyone struggles sometimes, but if you’ve neglected daily responsibilities more often than usual, your alcohol consumption could be to blame.
  • You’ve tried to quit drinking without success — Many people struggling with alcoholism want to stop drinking and have tried to do so. Unfortunately, feeling as if you cannot stop drinking is a symptom of alcohol use disorder (AUD).
  • You’ve been diagnosed or have symptoms of a mental health disorder and it seems to be linked to your drinking — Not everyone with a mental health issue becomes an alcoholic. However, there is a link between poor mental health and alcoholism.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

  • Inpatient Programs — Inpatient treatment is the option for alcohol addiction treatment. These intensive programs are usually 30, 60, or 90 days but can be longer in certain cases. Throughout the duration of your stay at an inpatient rehab facility, you will live on site is a safe, substance-free environment. You will go through medically supervised detoxification first, then behavioral therapy and other services will be added to your regimen. Most programs will will help you set up an aftercare program upon completion.
  • Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs) Partial hospitalization programs (also called intensive outpatient programs, or IOPs) are comparable to inpatient programs, but you return home after each session. Some PHPs provide food and transportation, but this varies by program. Their services may include detoxification, medical services, behavioral therapy, support groups, and other holistic or custom treatments. PHPs accept new patients, along with patients who have completed an inpatient treatment program and still require intensive care.
  • Outpatient Programs Outpatient programs are less intensive and offer a more flexible treatment schedule. They are best for people who have responsibilities at work, home, or school and are highly motivated to achieve sobriety. Outpatient treatment programs customize your treatment sessions around your personal schedule. Outpatient programs can help new patients achieve success, and may also be a part of aftercare program once a patient completes an inpatient or PHP.
  • Medication-Assisted Therapy (MAT) Certain patients with Alcohol Use Disorder will qualify for medication-assisted therapy. Medications can help you detoxify, reduce cravings, and normalize bodily functions. Disulfiram (Antabuse), acamprosate (Campral), and naltrexone (Revia and Vivitrol) are the most common medications used to treat Alcohol Use Disorder. MAT is most effective when combined with other treatment therapies.
  • Support Groups Support groups are peer-led groups that help people stay sober. They can be a first step in overcoming alcoholism or a component of an aftercare plan. Many of them follow the 12-step approach, however there are secular options that don't follow the 12-step approach as well.

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Resources

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Abel, E. L., et al. “How Do Physicians Define ‘Light,’ ‘Moderate,’ and ‘Heavy’ Drinking?” Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, vol. 22, no. 5, 1 Aug. 1998, pp. 979–984, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9726266/, 10.1111/j.1530-0277.1998.tb03692.x

Agg, Jennie. “Ten Signs You’re Drinking a Little Too Much.” Mail Online, 22 Dec. 2014, www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2884202/Ten-signs-drinking-little-s-know-enjoying-odd-glass-wine-slips-harmful.html

Oliviero, Helena, and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Binge Drinking, Risks Common Far beyond Frat Houses and the Young.” Ajc, www.ajc.com/lifestyles/health/binge-drinking-risks-common-far-beyond-frat-houses-and-the-young/ltDjt4kykwwespxtjg3rEN/.

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