When does drinking become a problem?
or most adults, moderate alcohol use — no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women and older people — is relatively harmless. (A "drink" means 1.5 ounces of spirits, 5 ounces of wine, or 12 ounces of beer, all of which contain 0.5 ounces of alcohol.
Moderate use, however, lies at one end of a range that moves through alcohol abuse to alcohol dependence:
Alcohol abuse is a drinking pattern that results in significant and recurrent adverse consequences. Alcohol abusers may fail to fulfill major school, work, or family obligations. They may have drinking-related legal problems, such as repeated arrests for driving while intoxicated. They may have relationship problems related to their drinking.
People with alcoholism — technically known as alcohol dependence — have lost reliable control of their alcohol use. It doesn't matter what kind of alcohol someone drinks or even how much: Alcohol-dependent people are often unable to stop drinking once they start. Alcohol dependence is characterized by tolerance (the need to drink more to achieve the same "high") and withdrawal symptoms if drinking is suddenly stopped. Withdrawal symptoms may include nausea, sweating, restlessness, irritability, tremors, hallucinations and convulsions.
Although severe alcohol problems get the most public attention, even mild to moderate problems cause substantial damage to individuals, their families and the community.