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Problem Drinking, Risky Drinking and Alcoholism

Alcohol is the most widely used and abused drug in the United States. Each year, 17 million adults have a serious problem with alcohol, but only 3 million get help. Risky or problem drinking can jeopardize the health and safety not only of those who drink but also of their families, coworkers and communities. Problems associated with alcohol — including lost productivity at work, healthcare expenses and vehicle crashes — cost Americans $185 billion annually.

At one time or another, most of us have experienced situations in which we have had too much to drink. Although light to moderate drinking may not be cause for alarm, at a certain point, drinking can cause problems. That’s why it’s important to know that with alcohol, the more you drink, the more you put yourself — and others — at risk

Drinking Definitions

12 ounces of beer contains half an ounce of alcoholA 1.5 ounce glass of 80 proof distilled spirits (like whiskey or vodka) contains half an ounce of alcohol.A 5 ounce glass of wine contains half an ounce of alcohol.

A standard drink contains half an ounce of alcohol, which can be found in a 12-ounce can of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80 proof distilled spirits.

Moderate drinking is consuming not more than two drinks per day for men and not more than one drink per day for women. Moderate drinking for older people is one drink per day (or less) because of age-related changes in metabolism.

Heavy drinking is consuming five or more drinks on at least five occasions during a month. However, it is important to remember that alcohol problems can and do occur at much lower levels of consumption.

Binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) to 0.08 gram percent or above. For the typical male, this corresponds to consuming five or more drinks in about two hours; for women, four or more drinks. Binge drinking puts individuals at serious risk for an alcohol problem

When Drinking Becomes a Problem

Risky drinking is using alcohol in ways that are harmful to the drinker or to others. Drinking too much alcohol can impair your judgment and physical coordination – common factors in accidents such as car crashes and falls. It also increases the potential for problems in relationships with family, friends and coworkers. In the workplace, employee hangovers contribute to tardiness, absenteeism and reduced productivity. Employees with hangovers also may put their lives, or the lives of their coworkers and the public, at risk – particularly if they work in occupations where safety is an issue. Risky drinking can make conditions such as depression, hypertension and diabetes more difficult to treat and increase the risk of health problems such as liver and heart disease and certain types of cancer. Drinking during pregnancy increases a woman’s chances of having a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome, the leading preventable cause of mental retardation

Problem drinking, or alcohol abuse, is a pattern of drinking in which at least one of the following occurs during the course of a year:

  • Failure to fulfill major work, school or home responsibilities
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Continued drinking despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a chronic disease. It has four primary symptoms:

  • Craving: A strong need or compulsion to drink
  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one’s drinking on any given occasion
  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking
  • Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol over time to get high