Signs of a Drinking Problem (What Constitutes a Drinking Problem)?

While many people can enjoy alcohol responsibly, some can develop an unhealthy alcohol consumption pattern or a drinking problem.

An unhealthy relationship with alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholism and other severe health conditions. It is essential to recognize a drinking problem early to prevent negative consequences.

ARH Guy Drunk with Beer Bottles

Drinking Problem vs. Alcoholism 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines a drinking problem as any chronic alcohol consumption over what is considered a safe amount. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that Americans don’t consume more than one standard drink daily (for women) and two standard drinks daily (for men).

Drinking problems include binge drinking, heavy drinking, and drinking by pregnant women or people younger than 21.

A problem drinker is not dependent on alcohol and can go days, weeks, or months without drinking if they want to. They may consume a lot, or they may drink occasionally. If they abstain, they will not have withdrawal symptoms. The issue that problem drinkers have is that when they do drink, it causes an issue in their life or in the life of someone they know. 

Problem drinking that becomes severe is diagnosed as “Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD),” or alcoholism. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines alcoholism as a brain disorder characterized by an impaired ability to control or stop alcohol use despite social, occupational, or health consequences. 

Individuals with alcoholism have an alcohol addiction that includes both a physical and mental dependence. Unlike problem drinkers, alcoholics experience withdrawal symptoms when they try to cut back on alcohol.

The typical warning signs that someone may have a drinking problem include:

  • Missing class, work, or other responsibilities
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Experiencing memory loss or ‘blackouts’
  • Increased anger or violence while drinking
  • Difficulty reducing their alcohol intake
  • An increased tolerance or needing to drink more to feel the effects of alcohol
  • Spending more time drinking
  • Engaging in risky behavior while intoxicated

Is a Binge Drinker the Same as an Alcoholic? 

Binge drinking is the most common, costly, and deadly drinking problem in the United States. Binge drinking is a drinking pattern that brings a person’s blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 g/dl or above. For men, the CDC defines binge drinking as drinking five or more standard drinks in two hours. For women, binge drinking for women is defined as consuming four or more standard drinks in about 2 hours. 

Many heavy drinkers or binge drinkers do not have a severe alcohol use disorder (AUD) because they are not physically or mentally dependent on alcohol.

One in six U.S. adults binges on alcohol four times monthly, consuming about seven drinks per occasion. Binge drinking in the United States results in 17 billion total binge drinks consumed by adults annually, or 467 drinks per drinker.

While young adults are more likely to engage in binge drinking, those aged 35 and older tend to consume more alcohol per binge drinking session. Binge drinking is twice as likely among men than among women.

Risks of Heavy Alcohol Consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption is associated with many negative consequences, including:

  • Cancer of the breast, esophagus, mouth, liver, and colon
  • Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and liver disease
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Unintentional injuries
  • Violence
  • Sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy
  • Poor pregnancy outcomes, including miscarriage and stillbirth
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Increased symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression
  • Alcohol or other substance use disorders

Excessive alcohol use is hazardous and has led to approximately 95,000 deaths each year in the United States. Today, excessive drinking is responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among adults.

What to Do if Someone You Know Has a Drinking Problem

If you suspect your loved one might have a drinking problem, try to get them to stop drinking and refer them to medical treatment immediately. You should explain to your loved one the short-term and long-term risks associated with their drinking habits, so they understand why their drinking is a risk to themselves and others. 

An individual with a drinking problem should first be referred to a healthcare professional to evaluate and diagnose their drinking problem and recommend treatment options. 

Staging an intervention with a professional interventionist’s help can effectively get them into treatment for an individual resistant to treatment. During an intervention, family members and loved ones can urge an individual with a drinking problem to seek help.

An individual with a drinking problem may also benefit from support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), where they can receive support from others who understand their unique challenges.

There are also support groups for family members of addicted individuals such as Al-Anon, which can guide you on helping someone with a drinking problem.

Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse & Addiction

There are many treatment options available for alcohol abuse and addiction, including inpatient programs, outpatient programs, detox, and partial hospitalization. The right treatment options depend on the individual’s unique needs, background, and addiction severity. A doctor or an addiction specialist can help you determine the best treatment for your loved one.

Find Help For Your Addiction

You don’t have to overcome your addiction alone. Professional guidance and support is available. Begin a life of recovery by reaching out to a specialist today.

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Resources

Alcohol Research: Current Reviews Editorial Staff. “Drinking Patterns and Their Definitions.” Alcohol research : current reviews vol. 39,1 (2018): 17-18. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6104961/

“Alcohol Use Disorder.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-use-disorder

Binge Drinking Is a Serious but Preventable Problem of Excessive Alcohol Use. 30 Dec. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/binge-drinking.htm#:~:text=Binge%20drinking%20is%20defined%20as,drinks%20in%20about%202%20hours.

“Drinking Too Much Alcohol Can Harm Your Health. Learn the Facts.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 30 Dec. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/alcohol-use.htm

“Facts about Moderate Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 29 Dec. 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/fact-sheets/moderate-drinking.htm#:~:text=To%20reduce%20the%20risk%20of,days%20when%20alcohol%20is%20consumed.

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Updated on: January 14, 2021
Author
Kyra Wilians
About
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Medically Reviewed
Annamarie
Annamarie Coy,
BA, CADACII/ICADC, ICPR, MATS
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