Q. How can I tell whether I have a drinking problem?

A. Alcohol remains one of the most abused drugs in the country.  Many people can enjoy an alcoholic beverage without causing harm to their bodies, but others — for a multitude of reasons — can find themselves consuming alcohol to the point where it causes bodily harm, or a dependence that affects their daily lives. Risk factors for alcohol abuse include family history, or an underlying psychiatric issue (this can be a factor regardless of whether an individual is undergoing treatment for this issue).

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as "drinking so much within about two hours that blood-alcohol concentration (BAC) levels reach 0.08." Binge drinking is unhealthy and can cause heart issues and an increased risk of injuries or even death.

That said, there is no definitive "safe amount" of alcohol. But the NIAAA provides some guidance on quantities of alcohol consumption. Generally, unsafe quantities are:

  • For men under 65: more than 14 drinks a week, or more than four a day
  • Women under 65, or anyone over 65: more than 7 drinks a week, or three a day

A "drink" is traditionally defined as having 12 grams of ethanol — or a 5-ounce glass of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

In addition to monitoring alcohol intake, consider the CAGE questionnaire to determine whether your use of alcohol is unsafe. It has four questions:

  • Have you ever felt you should Cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or Guilty about your drinking?
  • Do you ever need an Eye-opener (drink in the morning) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

If you say yes to two or more of these questions, there is a high likelihood of a pattern of alcohol abuse.

Erik Polan, DO, is an internal medicine physician at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.