That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? How do we even define “too much?” By a certain number of glasses or bottles or shots in an hour or a day or a week? Or does it depend on the individual?
It’s important that we answer these questions, because this is a growing problem. In 2017, the journal JAMA Psychiatry published a study on alcohol use. From 2002 to 2013, the number of adults whose pattern of drinking is defined as high-risk rose by 30 percent and the number of people with Alcohol Use Disorder rose by nearly 50 percent. The researchers defined this as a public health crisis, because of the direct results of excessive alcohol use as well as the other health conditions associated with it (liver disease, heart disease, dementia, and more).
Let’s get some definitions under our belts before we dig further into these ideas. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines excessive drinking as more than four drinks in a day or 14 in a week for men, or more than three drinks in a day or seven per week for women. Drinking in excess of either of these amounts is considered “at-risk” or heavy drinking. Those who exceed both the daily and weekly limits are at the highest risk of health problems due to alcohol use. Not sure what counts as a drink? Here’s a handy chart.
Further, if drinking to excess becomes such a problem that a physician would actually diagnose it, the NIAAA refers to it as Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD):
AUD is a “chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”
As you can see, this diagnosis doesn’t require a person to drink a specified amount. Certainly there is a level of drinking that is unhealthy for everyone. But even someone who doesn’t drink to the “at-risk” level can have a drinking problem if alcohol is affecting their life negatively.
So, back to our original question: Do you drink too much?
First off, if you are concerned that your drinking is a problem, it probably is. A conversation with a physician is your best first stop to address such issues. If you aren’t sure, the AUDIT test may help you recognize issues that alcohol consumption is creating, and it will give you a starting point to have a conversation with your medical care provider.
There is good news here. Many resources are available to help you deal with alcohol use disorder or any health concerns caused by alcohol consumption. If you believe you have a drinking problem, please seek help. At Hunt Regional Medical Partners, we are here as a resource and will help in any way we can.