Drinking is so ingrained in our culture that it can sometimes be difficult to know if we have developed a problem with alcohol.

Drinking alcohol has become a cure-all for our emotions: we’re encouraged to have a drink to destress, celebrate with a glass of champagne, cope with motherhood by drinking wine, open a bottle of wine to enhance a romantic night in, or try out the latest vino and vinyasa class — even goat yoga has wine tasting linked to it! Not only is our culture conditioned to rely on alcohol as a companion to these life experiences, but marketing companies have geared campaigns specifically toward our increasingly stressful lifestyles.— so much so that having fun and coping with life become synonymous with alcohol.

How do you know if you have a problem, though? If you’re unsure, you may first want to consider the standard recommendations when it comes to drinking.


According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture, alcohol should be consumed in moderation, which they define as one drink per day for women and two for men, and that those drinks are consumed within healthy eating patterns.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), low-risk drinking is drinking no more than 7 drinks per week for women, and 14 for men.

A standard drink isn’t necessarily the size of the container that you buy it in. For example, some measures of wine poured in a bar exceed the amount that is classed as a standard drink. If you’re unsure, check the label.

what is a standard drink?
Source: Rethinking Drinking (NIAAA)

Given that so many social situations and engagements revolve around drinking one or more drinks, it can mean that you exceed the normal limits quickly. But just when does it become a problem?


There are a number of online tests and quizzes that can help you determine if you have developed a problem with alcohol. That could fall into what is called “binge drinking” or “heavy drinking,” or it may even reach the definition of substance use disorder.

What is binge drinking?

According to NIAAA and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), binge drinking is a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration to a certain level (0.08 g/dL), or when women have consumed four drinks, and men five, within a two hour timeframe. SAMHSA defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking on five or more days within the last month.

Drinking beyond these limits and experiencing a number of other behavioral effects may mean you risk of developing alcohol use disorder.

What is alcohol use disorder?

When problem drinking becomes acute, it may meet the clinical definition of alcohol use disorder (formerly known as alcoholism). This is defined by NIAAA as “a chronic relapsing brain disease characterized by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a negative emotional state when not using.”

Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is more common than you might think. It is estimated that approximately 16 million Americans suffer with the condition, of which less than 10 percent receive the appropriate treatment.

To determine if you or a loved one may have alcohol use disorder or just a problematic relationship with alcohol, NIAAA has produced the following helpful list of questions.

Have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer, than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over other aftereffects?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten arrested, been held at a police station, or had other legal problems because of your drinking?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure? Or sensed things that were not there?

There are also a number of online quizzes:

If you think that you or a loved one may have a problem with alcohol use disorder, please contact us or another licensed healthcare professional to get specialist treatment.

Credit: Feature Photo by Elevate on Unsplash