Is your drinking becoming a problem for you?
In working with people who drink alcohol in amounts beyond what is considered healthy, I find they are often surprised to learn that almost 30% of Americans never drink alcohol and slightly more than 30% drink only on special occasions, or at an average of one drink per week.
I also find that that people do not know the difference between healthy and unhealthy drinking.
For American adults who choose to drink alcohol, the health guidelines for moderate drinking are defined as no more than one drink of alcohol per day for women of all ages and men older than age 65 and no more than two drinks of alcohol per day for men age 65 and younger.
Drinking beyond these amounts is considered unhealthy. Heavy drinking and binge drinking are examples of unhealthy drinking. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers 15 or more drinks per week for men and 8 drinks per week for women to be heavy drinking. Binge drinking is defined as drinking 5 or more drinks for men or 4 or more drinks for women on a single occasion, generally within 2 hours.
In developing these guidelines, the CDC defines a drink as a 12-ounce beer; a 5- ounce glass of wine; or a 1.5-ounce shot of SO-proof liquor. However, these guidelines may not represent what people are actually drinking. Many craft beers have significantly more alcohol than a “traditional” beer and many alcohols are higher than SO-proof. A glass of wine or a mixed drink are frequently over-poured which can, in reality, be the equivalent of 2 drinks as defined by the CDC. It is helpful to measure out what 5 ounces of wine or a 1.5-ounce shot looks like. Most people are surprised to see how small one CDC-defined drink actually is.
In addition to the health risks associated with drinking unhealthy amounts of alcohol, ongoing excessive use of alcohol increases the risk that some people will develop an alcohol use disorder that will require treatment.
People who develop an alcohol use disorder will recognize at least two of the following symptoms in themselves – drinking greater amounts and more frequently than they planned to; unable to cut down on their drinking despite wanting to do so; spending a great deal of time drinking or recovering from their use of alcohol; having a strong urge to drink; not meeting obligations at work, school, or to their family; continuing to drink despite legal or relationship problems; giving up or limiting social, recreational, or work activities because of drinking; drinking in unsafe or dangerous situations; continuing to drink even when you know your drinking contributes to psychological or medical problems; development of increased tolerance to alcohol; symptoms of withdrawal when alcohol is withheld.
In 2013, about 7.0% of adults in the U.S. age 18 and older (about 16.6 million) were found to have an alcohol use disorder. That translates to about one in every four children under the age of 18 years being exposed to the effects of alcohol abuse in a family member.
If your drinking routinely exceeds these guidelines, now might be time to develop a plan to moderate your drinking before this turns into a problem for you. Some popular techniques include making a commitment to stick to your one- or two-drink limit before you start drinking; practicing how to decline another drink; switching to water or a soft drink when you’ve met your alcohol limit; or ordering a non alcoholic version.
If you find that you are not able to moderate your drinking, or you believe you might have developed an alcohol use disorder, there are many treatment programs available to help. Find the program that feels right for you. Options include 12-Step programs, private treatment options, and mental health centers.
Elizabeth (Liz) Andres, MS, MSW, LSW, is a staff therapist at Northeastern Center Outpatient Clinic in Angola. In addition to her clinical training in addictions, Liz is currently completing work toward a Certification in Addictions through the University of Michigan School of Social Work