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Recognizing the Problem

Many people only think of a "skid-row bum" when they think of someone with an alcohol problem. This is the end stage of alcohol problems, when a person has lost his or her family, job and health because of alcohol abuse/dependence. The alcohol-dependent person doesn't reach this stage overnight. There may be less obvious changes along the way, beginning with drinking more than intended or more than is safe for the task at hand (like driving a car).1

Alcohol is a problem if it causes any life problems. This includes health, work and life at home. An individual may have a problem with alcohol if there is constant obsessing about drinking, repeated attempts and failure to stop on his/her own, or often drinking more than planned. Feeling the need to cut down on alcohol consumption, guilt about drinking, annoyance of criticism from others of drinking behaviors, or the need to have a drink in the morning, are all indicators that there may be a problem with alcohol.1,3

What is drinking too much? For women and people older than 65 – more than seven drinks per week; or men – more than 14 drinks per week. A woman who drinks more than three drinks every day or 21 drinks per week and a man who has more than five drinks every day or 35 drinks per week may be drinking heavily. Drinking becomes a concern if an individual drinks regularly in order to relax, relieve anxiety or to go to sleep, to be more comfortable in social situations or to avoid thinking about sad or unpleasant things.2

Some signs that alcohol is beginning to take over an individual's life include worrying if s/he has enough alcohol for an evening or weekend. Hiding alcohol or buying it at different stores so people will not know how much alcohol is being consumed may also be an indication. Sneaking drinks when others aren't looking or trying to get "extra" drinks at social events are also signs of being dependent on alcohol. Additional indications are that being unable to stop drinking once started and having tried to stop drinking for a week or so but only stop for a few days. Failing to do what is needed at work or at home because of drinking or feeling guilty after drinking are other warnings. Other signals include comments about the individual's drinking, not remembering what happened while drinking or hurting oneself and/or someone else as a result of drinking.2

There are a variety of behaviors that may cause concern. An individual is taking risks with alcohol if he/she drinks and drives, operates machinery or mixes alcohol with medicine. Keeping heavy drinking a secret from physicians or pharmacists is a danger as well. Risks also include trying to become pregnant or being pregnant while still drinking. Another safety issue is drinking while caring for small children.2

Many people find it hard to admit when alcohol becomes a problem. Often, others see the problem before the individual sees it. Once the individual recognizes the problem with drinking, they should then talk with a doctor about those concerns.1


  1. Alcohol: What To Do If It's a Problem for You. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  2. Alcohol Abuse: How to Recognize Problem Drinking. American Academy of Family Physicians.
  3. Frequently Asked Questions for the General Public. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Updated February, 2007.

This page was last modified on : 10/28/2013

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