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Harvard Health Blog
Alcohol use disorder: When is drinking a problem?
- By: Marcelo Campos, MD,
As a service to our readers, Harvard Health Publishing provides access to our library of archived content. Please note the date of last review or update on all articles. No content on this site, regardless of date, should ever be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician.
What constitutes ” a drink” in terms of actual alcohol content? I have a relative who fills a regular drinking glass anywhere from half to three quarters full of gin or vodka, mixes in some club soda and calls that “a drink”. I’m thinking it may actually be 3 drinks? Am I correct?
Drugs to ease drug use is always perplexing to me.
I found this article very informative to me, and I am thankful for this extra information. Unfortunately I have some relatives with chronic drinking problems, and I am familiar with the behavior when it relates to a heavy and serious drinking addiction. But I have more difficulty in identifying, and doubts in considering (or not) a drinking problem when someone drinks, let’s say 2 or 3 beers in a day for 3 or 4 days during the week + a glass of wine at dinner every day + and eventually another drink (like gin & tonic) once in a while during the week too. For me it seems to be a lot of drinking, but some persons I know have this pattern, and they consider it not a problem…and of course these people never get drunk. Should I worry, and insist with these friends or not? Thank you for any advice. Susana
Hi Susana, a recent research shows that alcohol can be harmful even in smaller amounts. The current recommendations is up to 1 drink a day for women and 2 drinks a day for men. Denial is common with this disease and other substance use disorders. What we cannot deny is the association of alcohol use with cancer, psychiatric, liver and neurologic diseases.
I would say to ask a different question. Have you ever been arrested or kicked out of an establishment due to drinking? Then recommend they go to AA. Also, do you have relatives who have drinking problems, lost a license, crashed or blacked out due to alcohol. Some people can’t even drink one drink!!!! I’ve met people like this, at least three who get crazy after just one! They should avoid it entirely. If you are hiding any alcohol in your home, drinking alone or not knowing how you got home, you have a serious problem and need to join AA before alcohol destroys you,your familiy and your health. It’s a serious problem that many deal with and you need supportive sponsors, family and friends. Celebrate your sobriety and good luck to all.
AUD can be determined by asking is there is ‘use’ despite trouble and enabling, having someone support the use by suppling the etoh or covering up the effects. Trouble is arrests, domestic disputes, job disputes, and risky behaviors
Surprised you did not mention AA as an option. I have friends who have been sober for years – and have helped others – via AA.
AA does not appeal to many people because of its basic tenet of reliance on a higher authority.
AA has a poor track record — some studies suggest that something like 5-10% of people are able to stick with “the program” after a year.
AA is also not a science- or evidence-based program. It is more of a “faith-based” program, both in the sense of its connection to religious belief and its essentially theological commitment to a program that was made up over 80 years ago. It can also be cultish.
For people AA works for, great. But it comes with a lot of baggage.
Masking pain with alcohol or other drugs is very temporary and for me actually leads to more pain. It is the avenue of lies and miss truths to oneself. Breathing in these dark feelings and accepting them, then breathing out hope, light, happiness has become my armor and mantra. The truth within is the knowledge that this path of relief through alcohol will lead to death. My battle is with these unfortunate demons. The current events of the world, social media, and instant information from all sources feed these demons. So I must evaluate the power of this knowledge. It is just as dangerous as the drugs. I find myself becoming more disenchanted with the human specie and their endless need for acceptance, control, money and power. So Inwardly I must find humor and laugh at this very ugly behavior. And in this humor I smile and unfortunately keep my distance. Drugs are the masking. Feelings continue as long as I breath and like a cycle, they too will pass. And that is the hardest challenge I have ever confronted. Breathe wait and live.
Thank you Bruce. Well written, insightful with the emotions, pain and self knowledge but also with solutions of breathing and accepting emotions and switching it up to good thoughts/feelings. There is always a ying and a yang so don’t just focus on one and why not the good ones? Focusing on the good here and sobering up.
Very inspiring. Thank you.
I appreciate this article and the approach that something other than abstinence is effective in treating AUD.
The simple way to determine if etoh is an issue is by definition:
The definition of aud is use despite trouble plus enabling , which is having someone helping you to use. There are 2 types of enabling, positive like the parent who buys etoh so their teens will drink T home, and negative enabling, which is cleaning up and hiding someone’s use from others.
Use despite trouble means that drinking causes trouble like argum nets, DUIs , job loss, risky behavior etc.
Everyone who has use despite trouble has an enabler.
Surprised at not one mention of Alcoholics Anonymous in this article. The organization has been keeping millions of alcoholics sober for decades, worldwide. Even many who relapse return to AA and lead full lives as productive members of society.
True. It was wrong not to mention them. They have been in the trenches for years and helping so many unfortunate, despairing souls. They helped 4 of my relatives get sober. One relapse but no drugs to mask. Learn to live your life without alcohol and controlling environment and people you’re around / situations so the temptation is not there.
brazil power . thanks dr marcelo dear collegue
I am so thankful to the author of the article and those specialists who have assisted to compile the research.
However it is very challenging that very few people will have access to the article and bather to read it,and tell friends especially my African friends. while 10% of death in the US was due to scourge of alcohol as in the article it is more and more that that in Africa and worst in Uganda.
The worst challenge is that there is no law regulating the use of alcohol in most African countries, even the fewer laws have not been enforced. I can say this because the Enguli Act of Uganda is one of the unknown, and unfunctional law in Uganda yet it is the only one on alcohol related cases.
I don’t know whether the writer tried to look at the impacts of AUD in relation to HIV/AIDS and domestic violence. here most cases of domestic violence are closely related to alcohol, again it is obvious t that many people lose self control when drunk and can easily give up to in protected sex,to contract HIV,alcohol easily weakens the immune system of an HIV victim.
I think there should put stringent laws to regulate on the use of alcohol.
Laws only matter to people who care to obey them. More laws do not solve a problem. People need reasons to change behavior, and the first reason is self love…. understanding that abusive drinking is slow suicide. If one does not care about himself, by extension, does not truly care about anyone else. Sometimes it requires many other people pointing out the behavior problems that follow drinking episodes to help someone understand that the behavior needs to change. Keep in mind that you can only make decisions for yourself, not for someone else.
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