Abuse of Alcohol

Alcohol abuse means you drink more than the recommended daily or weekly limits. You may be drinking alcohol regularly or drinking large amounts in a short period of time (binge drinking). You continue to drink even though it causes legal, work, or relationship problems.

What do I need to know about recommended alcohol limits?

  • Men 21 to 64 years should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. Do not have more than 4 drinks in 1 day or more than 14 in 1 week.
  • All women, and men 65 or older should limit alcohol to 1 drink in a day. Do not have more than 3 drinks in 1 day or more than 7 in 1 week. No amount of alcohol is okay during pregnancy.

What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse?

  • Loss of interest in activities, work, and school
  • Hiding alcohol, or drinking in private
  • Depression, or guilt about drinking
  • Constant thoughts about alcohol
  • Drinking in the morning to relieve the effects of a hangover
  • Not being able to control the amount you drink
  • Restlessness, or erratic and violent behavior

What health problems can alcohol abuse cause?

  • Cancer in your liver, pancreas, stomach, colon, kidney, or breast
  • Stroke or a heart attack
  • Liver, kidney, or lung disease
  • Blackouts, memory loss, brain damage, or dementia
  • Diabetes, immune system problems, or thiamine (vitamin B1) deficiency
  • Problems for you and your baby if you drink while pregnant

How is alcohol abuse treated?

Treatment helps you understand the reasons you abuse alcohol. Counselors and therapists provide you with support and help you find ways to cope instead of drinking. You may need inpatient treatment to provide a controlled environment. You may need outpatient treatment after your inpatient treatment is complete.

  • Detoxification (detox) is a program used to flush alcohol from your body. During detox, medicines are given to help prevent withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol.
  • In brief intervention therapy, a healthcare provider helps you think about your alcohol use differently. He or she helps you set goals to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink. Therapy may continue after you leave the hospital.
  • Vitamin supplements such as B1 may be needed. Alcohol can make it hard for your body to absorb enough vitamin B1. You may be given vitamin B1 if you have low levels. It is also given to prevent brain damage from alcohol use.

What can I do to manage my alcohol use?

  • Decrease the amount you drink. This can help prevent health problems such as brain, heart, and liver damage, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. If you cannot stop completely, healthcare providers can help you set goals to decrease the amount you drink.
  • Plan weekly alcohol use. You will be less likely to drink more than the recommended limit if you plan ahead.
  • Have food when you drink alcohol. Food will prevent alcohol from getting into your system too quickly. Eat before you have your first alcohol drink.
  • Time your drinks carefully. Have no more than 1 drink in an hour. Have a liquid such as water, coffee, or a soft drink between alcohol drinks.
  • Do not drive if you have had alcohol. Make sure someone who has not been drinking can help you get home.
  • Do not drink alcohol if you are taking medicine. Alcohol is dangerous when you combine it with certain medicines, such as acetaminophen or blood pressure medicine. Talk to your healthcare provider about all the medicines you currently take.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address: http://www.aa.org
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address: http://www.samhsa.gov

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

  • You have sudden chest pain or trouble breathing.
  • You want to harm yourself or others.
  • You have a seizure or have shaking or trembling.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have hallucinations (you see or hear things that are not real).
  • You cannot stop vomiting or you vomit blood.
  • You need help to stop drinking alcohol.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.