April 9, 2014

Take these steps to assess drinking habits

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to learn about the health and social problems caused by drinking too much.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism encourages the public to dedicate this month to understanding how excessive drinking can affect health, to evaluating their own drinking habits, and to discovering the latest developments in treatments for alcohol use disorders.

Many adults drink moderately and responsibly without complications, and there are indications from research that some can derive modest health benefits. At the same time, alcohol-related problems — which result from drinking too much, too fast, or too often — are among the most significant public health issues in the United States and internationally.

According to NIAAA, an estimated 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder, a medical term describing a range of mild, moderate, and severe alcohol problems. In addition, research shows that binge drinking is not uncommon among adults in the United States. Nearly one quarter of people age 18 and older report that they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past month.

Here are steps NIAAA recommends people take to evaluate their drinking habits during Alcohol Awareness Month.

For women, low-risk drinking can be defined as no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than14 drinks per week. NIAAA research shows that only about 2 in 100 people who drink within these limits have an alcohol use disorder. 

For those who find that their drinking patterns are above the recommended limits, cutting back or quitting can have significant health benefits. People who reduce their drinking decrease their risks for injuries, liver and heart disease, depression, stroke, sexually transmitted diseases, and several types of cancers.

No matter how severe the problem may seem, most people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from some form of treatment. However, each year, only a fraction of people with alcohol problems (about 15 percent) seek professional help.

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