There’s lot more to alcoholism than “drinking a lot.” But you also don’t have to be addicted to alcohol for it to a problem for you.
How much is “a lot”?
Most people are able to drink a moderate amount of alcohol without it causing serious problems in their lives. What does that mean exactly?
- Moderate drinking is up to one drink per day for women or up to two drinks per day for men.
- Anything more than 4 drinks in a single day for women, or 5 drinks in a day for men, is considered “high-risk” drinking.
- If you drink that much in the space of 2 hours, that’s considered binge drinking.
- Keep in mind that a “drink” refers to a can of beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of liquor. Many cocktails contain 2 or 3 shots—a single Long Island Iced Tea can count as 4-5 drinks!
Those are well-established guidelines, but each person’s body processes alcohol differently. Some people can drink more and not seem to experience any problems, while others can get completely drunk from just one or two drinks.
Most people who engage in high-risk drinking or even binge drinking are not addicted to alcohol. The biggest thing that separates addiction (or “alcoholism”) from other types of alcohol use is this: When someone is addicted to alcohol, it’s extremely difficult—almost impossible—for them to stop on their own.
Should I cut back?
Ultimately it’s up to you to decide how much is too much. Think about the negative consequences you’ve experienced from drinking, like making poor decisions or blacking out. Think about the potential long-term health risks of heavy drinking: liver problems, high blood pressure, and some types of cancer. Now think about any benefits you get from drinking: maybe you like the taste of alcohol, or it makes it easier for you to socialize with new people. Now, ask yourself if the pros outweigh the cons.
If you’re not sure, you can always try cutting back and see what happens. What do you have to lose?
You don’t necessarily have to quit entirely either—you might experience a big improvement just by cutting back to moderate drinking. That said, many people find that avoiding alcohol entirely is easier than drinking in moderation.
What if I can’t stop?
If you’re having a hard time quitting on your own, you may be addicted to alcohol. Fortunately, there are many well-established treatments for alcoholism: therapy, residential treatment, medications, and support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or SMART Recovery. Millions of people have recovered from alcoholism before you. With the right help, you can too!
Alcohol and mental illness
Many people also use alcohol as a way of self-medicating for a mental illness, sometimes without even knowing it. If you have any underlying mental health conditions, addressing them can make it easier to cut back or stop drinking—and vice versa.
- American Society of Addiction Medicine. (2011). Definition of Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.asam.org/resources/definition-of-addiction
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). Frequently Asked Questions. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm