Three weeks ago I wrote about the difficulty of quitting smoking.  This week I’m writing about an even harder habit to break – problem drinking.

Our understanding of alcohol use and abuse is evolving.  Alcoholism or alcohol abuse is defined as continued alcohol drinking despite negative consequences, whether those negative consequences are to one’s work, relationships or health.  Alcohol abuse happens to different people at different quantities of drinking, so the amount of drinking was never the focus.  It was the fact that drinking continued despite bad consequences.

A valuable article in the Wall Street Journal this week reviews the change in thinking about alcohol abuse and points to a useful new website for patients from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).  We now know that even without adverse consequences, people who drink more are at much higher risk of progressing to alcoholism that those who don’t.

The NIAAA definition of low-risk drinking for men is 14 or fewer drinks per week and 4 or fewer drinks on any day.  For women it’s 7 or fewer drinks per week and 3 or fewer drinks on any day.  For men and women over 65, low-risk drinking is defined as no more than 1 drink daily.  For other groups of people, including patients taking medications that interact with alcohol, pregnant women, and patients with liver disease or heart disease, complete abstinence is recommended.  Only about 2% of low-risk drinkers go on to alcohol abuse.  Those who exceed either the daily or weekly definitions of low-risk drinking have a 20% chance of developing alcohol abuse.  And 50% of those who exceed both the daily and weekly limits develop alcoholism.

If you’re curious about whether or not you should drink less, I urge you to follow the link below to the NIAAA website and enter your drinking pattern.  It’s completely anonymous, so it’s a safe way to see how you compare with the general public and what risk your drinking pattern poses.  You’re the only one who can decide whether or not to make a change.  The NIAAA website is just an educational place to start.

Learn more:

Website from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism:  Rethinking Drinking

Wall Street Journal article:  To Your Health: New Web Site Helps Predict Alcohol Problems