Do I Drink Too Much?

After reading this post on CNN’s health blog, The Chart, I felt like it was time to write a post about alcohol use.  Alcohol is all around us – print ads, part of TV shows (Mad Men, anyone?), movies.  Not only that, but booze is part of most social events, and liquor stores are on every corner.  It can be easy to look past problematic alcohol consumption and dub it “normal” or “fun.”  And as The Chart’s article points out, it can be easy for even medical professionals to overlook folks with problematic drinking behavior. Screen shot 2013-01-17 at 8.12.04 PM

The CDC lists alcohol consumption as the third-leading cause of preventable death in the United States. A couple of other startling notes by the CDC:

  • On average, for each death due to alcohol, an individual’s life is cut short by 30 years.
  • 79,000 deaths per year are tied to the misuse of alcohol
  • Excessive alcohol use costs the United States about $185 billion each year in health care and criminal justice expenses, as well as lost productivity.

So, how do we know if we are drinking too much?  What makes someone an alcoholic?

The official criteria for alcohol abuse (in the DSM-IV) include things like:

  • Trouble fulfilling your obligations (ignoring kids, missing work deadlines, not showing up for/cancelling appointments or dates)
  • Using alcohol in situations that are hazardous (driving, operating machines)
  • Trouble getting along with others (fighting with partner/kids/parents about drinking too much)
  • Legal problems related to drinking too much (DUI’s, etc)

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes heavy or risky drinking as more than 14 drinks a week for men and more than seven a week for women. When it comes to daily consumption, five or more drinks for men and four or more for women is considered excessive.

Do you think you might have an issue with alcohol? Ready to do something about it? Try SAMHSA’s treatment service locator.  Alcoholics Anonymous is another good option.  You may also want to look at your insurance company’s list of behavioral health providers.  Churches, employee assistance programs, and community centers may also have resources to help.  Effective, low-cost and/or free treatment is available in most areas of the country.  For more information about support and treatment for issues involving alcohol, click here.

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