When Drinking Becomes a Problem

Problem drinking that becomes severe is given the medical diagnosis of Alcohol Use Disorder or AUD.

 

More than 15 million adults ages 18 and older (9.8 million men and 5.3 million women) have AUD. And approximately 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. 

 

If you (or someone you know) drink too much, read on to learn more about AUD, assess your drinking pattern and discover your risk for alcohol-related health problems.

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Risky Drinking Patterns

Healthy adults who drink more than the recommended single-day or weekly limits are considered “at risk” for AUD. Choose male or female to learn the limits for either sex.

Men

Are You at Risk?

Men who have more than four (4) drinks on any day or 14 per week are at risk for AUD.

Women

Are You at Risk?

Women who have more than three (3) drinks on any day or seven (7) per week are at risk for AUD.

About one (1) in four (4) people who exceed these limits already has AUD. People can have problems drinking less than these amounts, particularly if they drink too quickly, have certain medical conditions or are older.

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U.S. Drinking Patterns

Risk factors include how muchhow quickly, and how often you drink. Choose the option below that best describes your (or someone you know) drinking pattern to learn your risk for AUD.

I (or someone I know) drink more than the single day limit* and the weekly limit**

Where do I fit?

You (or someone you know) are at highest risk for AUD as one of 9% of U.S. adults who drink more than both the single-day limits and the weekly limits. 

I (or someone I know) drink more than the single day limit* or the weekly limit**

Where do I fit?

You (or someone you know) are at increased risk for AUD as one of 19% of U.S. adults who drink more than either the single-day limits or the weekly limits. 

I (or someone I know) drink less than the single day limit* and the weekly limit**

Where do I fit?

You (or someone you know) are at low risk for AUD as one of 37% of U.S. adults who always drink  within low-risk limits. 

I (or someone I know) never drink alcohol

Where do I fit?

You (or someone you know) are not at risk for AUD as one of 35% of U.S. adults who never drink alcohol.

* The single day limit for women is three (3) drinks and four (4) drinks for men.
** The weekly limit for women is seven (7) drinks and 14 drinks for men. 

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Too Much + Too Often = Too Risky

It makes a difference both how much you (or someone you know) drink on any day and how often you (or someone you know) have a heavy drinking day. A heavy drinking day is more than four (4) drinks on any day for men or more than three (3) drinks for women. Among people with this drinking pattern, this many have AUD:

2 in 10 people

One (1) heavy drinking day a month

3 in 10 people

One (1) heavy drinking day a week

5 in 10 people

Two (2) or more heavy drinking days a week

The more drinks on any day and the more heavy drinking days over time, the greater your (or someone you know) risk—not only for AUD but also for other health and personal problems.

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Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder 

To assess whether you (or someone you know) may have AUD, here are some questions to ask. In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?

  • Wanted to cut down or stop drinking more than once? Or tried to, but couldn’t?

  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the after effects of drinking?

  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?

  • Continued to drink even though it adds to another health problem?

  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?

  • Continued to drink even though it makes you feel depressed or anxious?

  • Continued to drink after having had a memory blackout?

  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?

  • Continued to drink even though it causes trouble with your family or friends?

  • Given up or cut back on activities that are important or interesting to you, or give you pleasure, in order to drink?

  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?

  • Found that when the effects of alcohol wear off, you have withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or you sense things that were not there?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, your (or someone you know) drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more AUD symptoms a person has, the more urgent the need for change.

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What are the Physical and Mental Health Risks?

Drinking too much has immediate effects that increase your (or someone you know) risk of many harmful health conditions. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to serious physical health and mental health problems, as well as personal problems.

Chronic Diseases

Studies have shown that one drink a day increases the risk of breast cancer in women. Research has also shown that people who drink excessively have a greater risk of liver disease, heart disease, depression, stroke and stomach bleeding. It can also increase the risk of developing different cancers, including cancers of the mouth, esophagus, larynx, stomach, liver, colon and rectum.

Injuries

Drinking too much increases your chances of being injured or even killed. For example, alcohol is a factor in:

  • About 60% of fatal burn injuries, drownings and homicides

  • About 50% of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults

  • About 40% of fatal motor vehicle crashes, suicides and fatal falls

Birth Defects

Drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage and other serious problems in the baby. Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not drink because it is not yet known if any amount of alcohol is safe for a developing baby.

You can reduce the risk of these health risks by quitting drinking.

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Should You Quit Drinking?

Whether you (or someone you know) occasionally binge drink or regularly drink more than the recommended single-day limits, quitting drinking is strongly advised if you:

  • Cut down on drinking, but cannot stay within the limits you set.

  • Have had AUD or now have symptoms.

  • Have a physical or mental condition that is caused or worsened by drinking.

  • Take a medication that interacts with alcohol.

  • Are or may become pregnant. 

If you (or someone you know) are ready to quit drinking or cut down to healthier levels, Gateway Health wants to help you get started on the road to recovery. Contact us at www.gatewayhealthplan.com/contact to talk about a plan to help you quit drinking.

 

It's up to you if and when you want to change your drinking. Other people may be able to help, but in the end, it's your decision.

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