The question:I like to have a few drinks with dinner, but I drink almost every night. How do I know if I have a drinking problem?
It is perfectly reasonable to enjoy a beer with a burger, a glass of wine to wind down after a long day or even getting drunk on daiquiris during your Caribbean vacation. There is even documented medical research that suggests a drink or two daily may have certain healthy benefits in modifying risks for cancer or cardiovascular disease. On the other hand, public health research estimates that up to 30 percent of all Americans have abused alcohol at some point. So how do you draw the line between healthy and “problem” drinking?
Alcoholism and alcohol abuse are somewhat different health concerns associated with drinking. Both result from alcohol use interfering with health, family, occupation, relationships and financial or legal well-being.
Alcoholism results in physical addiction from excess alcohol intake and symptoms that might include tolerance to excess drinking, or withdrawal from cessation of alcohol use (tremors, nausea, vomiting, hallucinations, etc.)
Alcohol abuse causes illness or physical harm due to injury, or interferes with the responsibilities and activities of daily living, all without the signs of physical addiction. If you have fallen down drunk and hit your head, called in sick to work vomiting and dehydrated from a hangover or forgot to pick up your kids after school following a two-martini lunch date, then you have abused alcohol to some extent.
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The bottom line is that if boozing messes up your relationships, empties your wallet, gets in the way of adult responsibilities or has your local law enforcement officer asking you to puff on a Breathalyzer, you drink too much. The amount of alcohol is not the determining factor. “I only had one drink” is not a valid excuse if your personality or judgment is affected in a way that makes you belligerent or unreliable. If you’ve ever wondered whether you drink too much, or a loved one or colleague has suggested as much, you likely have an alcohol-related problem that should be addressed.
There are a number of resources available if you need help. A good place to start is with your primary care physician or a mental health professional who may assess your individual circumstances and make recommendations for moderating alcohol intake or abstaining from alcohol altogether. Support from family and friends is also important, and organizations such a Al-Anon or Alcoholics Anonymous may be an option if you have an ongoing identified alcohol addiction.