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 But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date.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.

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Alcohol Abuse: How to Recognize Problem Drinking


Am Fam Physician. 2004 Mar 15;69(6):1497-1498.

What is considered a “drink”?

One drink is one 12-ounce bottle of beer (4.5 percent alcohol), or one 5-ounce glass of wine (12.9 percent alcohol), or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirit, like whiskey or gin.

How much alcohol is too much?

You are drinking too much if you are:

  • A woman who has more than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks per occasion.

  • A man who has more than 14 drinks per week or more than four drinks per occasion.

  • Older than 65 years and having more than seven drinks per week or more than three drinks per occasion.

Am I taking risks with alcohol?

You are taking serious risks with alcohol if you:

  • Drink any amount of alcohol and drive or operate machinery.

  • Mix alcohol with medicine (over-the-counter or prescription medicines).

  • Drink regularly without telling your doctor, surgeon, or pharmacist that you are a regular drinker.

  • Drink at all while you are pregnant or are trying to get pregnant. Even small amounts of alcohol may hurt an unborn child.

  • Drink alcohol while you are taking care of small children.

Has my drinking become a habit?

You should be worried about this if you regularly use alcohol to:

  • Relax, relieve anxiety, or go to sleep.

  • Be more comfortable in social situations.

  • Avoid thinking about sad or unpleasant things.

  • Socialize with other regular drinkers.

Has drinking alcohol become a problem for me?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you felt that you should cut down on your drinking?

  • Do you feel annoyed when people make comments to you about your drinking?

  • Do you feel guilty about your drinking?

  • Do you ever need a drink in the morning to get yourself going or to get rid of a hangover?

If you answer “yes” to just one of these questions you may have a problem. If you answer “yes” to more than one of these questions, it is highly likely that you have a drinking problem.

Other signs that your drinking has become a problem include:

  • Worrying about having enough alcohol to last through an evening or a weekend.

  • Hiding alcohol or buying it at different stores so no one will know how much you are drinking.

  • Switching from one kind of drink to another to keep from drinking too much or getting drunk.

  • Trying to get “extra” drinks at a social event or sneaking drinks when others are not looking.

  • Failing to do what you should at work or at home because of drinking.

  • Not being able to remember what happened while you were drinking.

  • Not being able to stop drinking once you start.

  • Hurting someone else as a result of your drinking.

How can I get help for an alcohol problem?

If you feel you need help to cut down on your drinking, you can contact:

Your doctor

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment


Adult Children of Alcoholics


Al-Anon and Alateen


Alcoholics Anonymous


National Association for Children of Alcoholics


National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism


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 © 2004 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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