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At-Risk Alcohol Use

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

What is at-risk alcohol use?

At-risk alcohol use means you drink more than recommended daily or weekly limits. For men 21 to 64 years, the limit is 4 drinks in a day or 14 in a week. For women and for men 65 or older, it is 3 drinks in a day or 7 in a week. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor. Your healthcare provider may recommend lower limits for you if you have a health condition. No amount is safe for a woman who is pregnant.

What increases my risk for at-risk alcohol use?

  • Drinking to relieve stress, anxiety, depression, or loneliness
  • Early age when you started drinking
  • A family history of alcoholism
  • A mental disorder, such as depression
  • Cigarette or illegal drug use

What problems can at-risk alcohol use cause?

  • Alcohol use disorder (alcohol abuse and dependence)
  • Accidents at home or work, or while driving
  • Health problems, such as high blood pressure, liver or brain damage, cancer, or pancreatitis
  • Health problems in newborns whose mothers drank alcohol during pregnancy
  • Relationship or mood problems

What is at-risk alcohol use screening?

Screening means healthcare providers ask about alcohol use during medical appointments. Your healthcare provider will ask you how much and how often you drink. This includes drinking regularly or drinking large amounts in a short period of time (binge drinking). Your provider may also want to know if alcoholism or other substance abuse disorders run in your family. He or she may ask how you are doing in school or at work. A rating scale tells your healthcare provider how much you drink in a day or week.

How is at-risk alcohol use treated?

Your healthcare provider may admit you to the hospital to help you withdraw from alcohol safely. At the hospital, you may need any of the following:

  • Detoxification (detox) is a program used to flush alcohol from your body. During detox, medicines are given to help prevent withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking alcohol.
  • In brief intervention therapy, a healthcare provider helps you think about your alcohol use differently. He or she helps you set goals to decrease the amount of alcohol you drink. Therapy may continue after you leave the hospital.
  • Vitamin supplements such as B1 may be needed. 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 brain damage from alcohol use.

What can I do to manage my alcohol use?

  • Decrease the amount you drink. This can help prevent health problems such as brain, heart, and liver damage, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer. If you cannot stop completely, healthcare providers can help you set goals to decrease the amount you drink.
  • Plan weekly alcohol use. You will be less likely to drink more than the recommended limit if you plan ahead.
  • Have food when you drink alcohol. Food will prevent alcohol from getting into your system too quickly. Eat before you have your first alcohol drink.
  • Time your drinks carefully. Have no more than 1 drink in an hour. Have a liquid such as water, coffee, or a soft drink between alcohol drinks.
  • Do not drive if you have had alcohol. Make sure someone who has not been drinking can help you get home.
  • Do not drink alcohol if you are taking medicine. Alcohol is dangerous when you combine it with certain medicines, such as acetaminophen or blood pressure medicine. Talk to your healthcare provider about all the medicines you currently take.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • Alcoholics Anonymous
    Web Address: http://www.aa.org
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
    PO Box 2345
    Rockville , MD 20847-2345
    Web Address: http://www.samhsa.gov

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) for any of the following:

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

When should I call my doctor?

  • 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.

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 2020 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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