Alcohol Abuse Problems / Questions

Is this your symptom?

  • Known or suspected alcohol abuse
  • Questions or concerns about alcohol intoxication, dependence, or abuse

Some Basics...

  • The harmful use of alcohol is considered to be alcohol abuse. This is also called problem drinking. This means that drinking is leading to health, career, legal, or social problems.
  • A blood alcohol level (BAL) measures how much alcohol is in the blood. People are considered legally drunk when they have a BAL above a certain value. A BAL above 80-100 mg/dL (0.08-0.10) is considered legally drunk in most places. Drinking 3-4 drinks can make a normal-sized person legally drunk.
  • Women will have a higher BAL than men for the same amount of alcohol. Older people will have a higher BAL than younger people for the same amount of alcohol.
  • People with a drinking problem should cut back or quit drinking alcohol. They may need help to do this. Support groups and treatment programs can help a person to recover.

What is "One Drink" of Alcohol?

A single drink of alcohol is:

  • 1.5 oz. hard liquor (1 shot; 45 ml), or
  • 4 oz. wine (small glass; 150 ml), or
  • 12 oz. beer (1 can; 360 ml)

What Is Moderate Drinking?

Moderate drinking (or social drinking) is defined as:

  • Men who have 2 or less drinks per day.
  • Women or older people who have 1 or less drinks per day.

What Is At-Risk Drinking?

People might not have any medical, social, or legal problems from drinking alcohol. Yet, they still may be drinking too much. This puts them at-risk for alcohol-related problems. Here are some examples of at-risk drinking.

  • Men who have more than 14 drinks per week. Men who have more than 4 drinks at a time.
  • Women and older people who have more than 7 drinks per week. Women and older people who have more than 3 drinks at a time.
  • Drinking while pregnant.

What Do the Terms Abuse and Alcohol Dependence Mean?

  • Alcohol Abuse: This is also called problem or harmful drinking. People with alcohol abuse may have health, career, legal, or social problems from drinking. Problems can be minor. These include waking up with a hangover. Problems can be more serious. These include car accidents and missing work.
  • Alcohol Dependence (Alcoholism): Alcoholism is a disease. Alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. They will have withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. They also build up tolerance. This means they need to drink more to reach the same level of drunkenness. Alcoholics feel compelled to drink. They will keep drinking even if this causes serious problems.

Is There a Simple Screening Test for Alcohol Abuse and Dependence?

The four CAGE questions screen for alcohol abuse and dependence. If a person answers yes to 1 or 2 questions, this suggests at-risk drinking. If a person answers yes to 3 or 4 questions, this suggests alcohol abuse and/or dependency.

  • Have you ever felt you should CUT down on your drinking?
  • Do people ever ANNOY you by making comments about your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or GUILTY about your drinking?
  • Do you ever drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover (EYE-OPENER)?

When to Call for Alcohol Abuse Problems / Questions

Call 911 Now

  • Unconscious (not moving, not talking, or not responding to stimulation)
  • Trouble waking up or acting very confused
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling things that are not there
  • Seizure occurred
  • Slow, shallow, and weak breathing
  • Attempted suicide
  • Feeling like harming yourself or killing yourself
  • Threatening to hurt or kill someone
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Vomiting lasts more than 2 hours
  • Feeling very shaky (hands are shaking)
  • Whites of the eyes have turned yellow
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • You want to talk with a mental health worker, psychiatrist, or counselor
  • Drinking alcohol daily and have had withdrawal seizures in past
  • Drinking alcohol daily and have had DTs (delirium tremens) in past
  • Drinking alcohol and pregnant
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • Alcohol drinking keeps you from working or going to school
  • Man and have 14 or more drinks per week or more than 4 drinks at a time
  • Woman or older person and have 7 or more drinks per week or more than 3 drinks at a time

Self Care at Home

  • Questions about drinking alcohol
  • Questions about blood alcohol level (BAL)
  • Questions about getting sober

Care Advice

General Information

  1. What You Should Know:
    • People with a drinking problem should cut back or quit drinking alcohol. They may need help to do this. Support groups and treatment programs can help a person to recover.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Do NOT Drink and Drive:
    • Do not drive a car after you drink alcohol.
    • If you and your friends are drinking, pick a designated driver. This is a driver who will not be drinking.
  3. Do NOT Drink Alcohol If You Are Pregnant:
    • Drinking alcohol while you are pregnant can harm the baby. It may cause birth defects. It may cause fetal alcohol syndrome.
    • Drinking small amounts (1 drink) every once in a while may be OK. Research has not yet shown if this will harm the baby.
    • The safest thing is not to drink any alcohol while you are pregnant.
  4. Caring For a Drunk Adult:
    • There are no medicines that can help you get sober quicker. Drinking coffee will not make you sober.
    • Taking a cold shower may briefly make you more alert. It will not make you sober.
    • Keep alcohol away from a drunk adult. Take them away from the bar or party. Remove any nearby alcohol.
    • Watch and protect the person from harm. Do not let them drive.
    • A drunk person may pass out. Lay the person on his/her side in case they vomit.
    • Call 911 if the person is hard to wake up or has trouble breathing.
    • Call 911 if the person acts violently.
  5. What Does Alcohol Do to Your Blood Alcohol Level (BAL)?
    • For a normal adult, each of these will raise the BAL about 25 mg/dL: 1 oz. of alcohol (1 shot; 45 ml); 4 oz. of wine (half cup; 120 ml); 12 oz. of beer (1 can; 360 ml).
    • A normal adult will break down alcohol at 15-25 mg/dL per hour.
    • Example: Drinking 3-4 beers will raise your BAL from 0 to 100 mg/dL. It will take 4-7 hours before your BAL is back to zero.
  6. What Does Your Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) Do to Your Behavior?
    • 50 mg/dL: You may feel flushed. Your skin may be red and feel warm. You may get emotional and talk a lot. You may lack normal judgment.
    • 100 mg/dL: You may have slowed reactions and thinking. You may be less coordinated. You may laugh and slur your speech.
    • 200 mg/dL: You may have trouble walking or feel shaky. You may feel sleepy. You may have trouble sitting up straight. Your speech may be very slurred.
    • 300 mg/dL: You may be unable to wake up unless slapped or pinched. You may snore loudly.
    • 400 mg/dL: This can lead to coma. You may be unable to control your urine.
    • 500 mg/dL: You could die.
    • Alcoholics build up tolerance. The above effects at any alcohol level may be less.
  7. At What Blood Alcohol Level (BAL) Are You Legally Drunk?
    • The normal BAL is 0 (zero).
    • There are many ways to measure BAL. These are the same BAL: 80 mg/dL, 80 grams per cent, 80 mg/100ml, or 0.08.
    • In the United States, the definition of legally drunk varies between states. This will be between 80-100 mg/dL (0.08-0.1).
    • In Canada, it is a criminal offense to drive a car if your BAL is greater than 80 mg/dL (0.08). Some provinces have sanctions for BALs greater than 50 mg/dL (0.05).
    • Drinking 3-4 drinks can make a normal-sized person legally drunk.
  8. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You have questions about alcohol.
    • You think you need to be seen.
    • You get worse.

Additional Resources

  1. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA):
    • Alcoholics Anonymous is a support group. The organization is a "fellowship of men and women who share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem and help others to recover from alcoholism. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking."
    • This group is open to anyone.
    • National phone number: 212-870-3400.
    • Web site: http://www.aa.org/
  2. Al-Anon / Alateen:
    • Al-Anon is a support group. The goal of Al-Anon is "to help families and friends of alcoholics recover from the effects of living with the problem drinking of a relative or friend."
    • This is open to anyone.
    • National phone number: 888-425-2666.
    • Web site: http://www.al-anon.org/
    • Web site: http://www.al-anon.org/for-alateen/
  3. Canada - Hotlines and Helplines:
  4. United States - CSAT National Helpline:
    • Center for Substance Abuse Treatment (CSAT). http://www.samhsa.gov/
    • The CSAT Helpline is a telephone resource. They can help locate community drug and alcohol treatment programs.
    • National toll-free phone number: 800-662-HELP (800-662-4357).
  5. United States - Alcohol and Drug Helpline:
    • National Toll-free number: 800-821-4357. Available 24 hours a day.
    • Referrals to local alcohol and drug-dependency units and self-help groups.

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 12/16/2017 1:00:26 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:35:57 PM

Copyright 2000-2017 Health Navigator, Inc. All rights reserved.

Health Center