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At-risk Alcohol Use


What is at-risk alcohol use?

At-risk alcohol use occurs when the amount of alcohol you drink increases your risk of health problems. You may be drinking alcohol regularly or all at once (binge drinking). In men, at-risk alcohol use is drinking more than 14 drinks per week, or more than 4 drinks at one time. For women, it is more than 7 drinks per week, or more than 3 drinks at one time. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.

What increases my risk of at-risk alcohol use?

You may be at increased risk if you drink alcohol to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness. The following are other conditions that may also increase your risk:

  • Age: Your risk increases if you started drinking at an early age.
  • Family history of alcoholism: You may have a higher risk of at-risk alcohol use if you have a close family member with alcoholism.
  • Gender: Men are more likely to become at-risk alcohol users than women.
  • Mental health problems: You may have an increased risk if you have a mental disorder, such as depression.
  • Other substance abuse: Your risk is higher if you are a heavy cigarette smoker or you abuse illegal drugs.

What are the signs and symptoms of at-risk alcohol use?

  • Depression or anxiety
  • Frequent injuries or accidents
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Trouble thinking clearly, understanding, or remembering things

What problems can at-risk alcohol use cause?

  • Accidents at home or work, or while driving
  • Health problems, such as liver or brain damage, cancer, or pancreatitis
  • Health problems in newborns whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy
  • Relationship problems

How is at-risk alcohol use diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you how much and how often you drink. He may also want to know if alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders run in your family. He may ask questions about how you are doing in school or at work. You may need other tests or rating scales to help your healthcare provider learn more about your drinking habits. A rating scale tells your healthcare provider how much you drink in a day or week. Blood, urine, or breath tests may also be done to check the amount of alcohol in your body.

How is at-risk alcohol use treated?

  • Brief intervention therapy: A healthcare provider meets with you to discuss ways to control your risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving. This therapy also helps you set goals to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Glucose: This medicine may be given to increase the amount of sugar in your blood.
  • Vitamin supplement: Alcohol can make it hard for your body to absorb enough vitamin B1. You may be given vitamin B1 if you have low levels. It is also given to prevent alcohol related brain damage. You may also need other vitamin supplements.

What are the risks of at-risk alcohol use?

At-risk alcohol use may lead to alcohol abuse or dependence if left untreated. You may have high blood pressure or liver and heart disease. You may also have problems with your mood and with relationships. You also increase your risk of injuries from accidents or harming others.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address:

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You need help to stop drinking alcohol.
  • You have new symptoms since your last visit.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You feel like hurting yourself or someone else.
  • You have trouble breathing, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.
  • You have a seizure.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2018 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

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