Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Is Alcohol a Problem for You?


Am Fam Physician. 1999 Jan 15;59(2):372.

  See related article on alcohol-related problems.

Experts define “one drink” in this way:

  • One 12-oz can of beer or bottle of wine cooler

  • One 5-oz glass of wine, or

  • One jigger (shot) of hard liquor (1.5 oz)

Each of these drinks has about the same amount of pure alcohol in it.

Is alcohol a problem for me?

You have a “drinking problem” when drinking causes problems in your life or health. Drinking alcohol affects your judgment, energy level, work performance and health. Even small amounts of alcohol may be a problem if you:

  • Have any short- or long-term health problems

  • Are taking medicines (even over-the-counter or herbal medicines)

  • Have people in your family who have a problem with alcohol

  • Have had problems in your life or health because of alcohol

  • Feel down or depressed

What is a sensible drinking limit?

If you don't have any of the problems listed above, it's probably safe for you to drink a limited amount of alcohol without affecting your health. A sensible drinking limit for people who don't have a problem with alcohol is:

  • For men, no more than two drinks per day

  • For women, no more than one drink per day

  • For people over 65 years old, no more than one drink per day

If you have any problems with alcohol, ask your doctor how much alcohol is safe for you.

Is alcohol causing a problem in my life?

  • Have your family or friends ever complained about your drinking?

  • Have you been late to or absent from work because of hangovers?

  • Have you ever driven after drinking?

  • Have you had trouble with the law after drinking?

  • Have you gotten into a fight after drinking?

  • Do you drink even when you don't feel well?

  • Has your doctor told you that you have health problems related to drinking?

  • Have you ever tried to quit drinking?

  • Have you ever had a blackout while drinking?

  • Do you sometimes have a drink in the morning to stop your hands from trembling or to ease a hangover?

  • Do you end up drinking more than you meant to drink?

  • Have you stopped doing things you used to do because you would rather drink?

  • Do you drink more than you used to drink?

If you said yes to any of these questions, drinking may be a problem for you.

What should I do?

Some people may be able to handle a problem with alcohol by drinking less. However, you'll probably have to quit drinking completely if it's causing problems with your health or life. If you try to quit drinking but are having trouble, help is available. Your doctor can help you choose a program that's right for you.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP. Contact for copyright questions and/or permission requests.

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