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How to Know If You Have a Drinking Problem

Are you a problem drinker?

Drinking alcohol every day is not always a sign of problem drinking. In fact, the American medical establishment has reached a rare consensus in agreeing that a couple of drinks a day (preferably in the evening) is beneficial for most healthy, middle-aged men because daily alcohol consumption is cardioprotective (i.e., protects the coronary arteries from plaque build-up and thus from some forms of heart disease).

The generally agreed upon amount of beneficial drinking is referred to as the "4 and 14" rule which states a healthy male can have up to 4 drinks on any one occasion (i.e., within a 24-hour period) but not more than 14 over the course of any given week. Drinking more than these amounts negates alcohol's benefits and can lead to health problems like hypertension and possibly liver disease.

Now keep in mind that both of these criteria must be met, so you can't have 14 drinks during a single day and then none for the rest of the week, because you'll have blown the no more than 4 a day criterion. So, sorry guys, but when you learn that you can have 14 drinks a week, you can't say "Yeehaw! I'll have them all on Sunday during the ball game!"

Women, it seems, are advised to respect the "3 and 7" criteria (i.e., no more than 3 drinks on any one occasion and not more than 7 over the course of any given week). Unfortunately for women, however, it seems alcohol does not have any significant cardioprotective effect and might even increase breast cancer risk.

Very importantly, in this formulation, a "drink" equates to 12 ounces of beer, or 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.

Now regardless of how seldom or little you drink, if your booze consumption has a definite, negative impact on any of the following zones, it's a problem even if you're well within the 4/14 or 3/7 criteria:

1. Your health. If your drinking is causing any health concerns such as raising your blood pressure, elevating your liver enzymes, causing heart rhythm disturbances, or contributing to excessive weight gain, it's a problem. Related to this, if you ever "lose time" or have a "black out" from drinking, it's a serious problem.

2. Your job or work performance. If your alcohol use results in absenteeism due to being hung-over, or simply losing your edge from drinking (either the night before or during the day; say at lunch), it's a problem.

3. The law. If you ever get a DWI or DUI, it's a problem.

4. Money. If your drinking is causing a hardship with personal finances, it's a problem.

5. Relationships. If your drinking often leads of social or interpersonal conflict, it's a problem. Indeed, some people experience the "Dr. Jeckyll/Mr. Hyde effect" in which they morph into raging, belligerent, drunks even after only one or a few drinks, thus causing major stress in their families or in other relationships. Similarly, if one's drinking results in fights and other antisocial behaviors, it's a problem.

Keep in mind that these guidelines are not necessarily descriptive of an "alcoholic," per se (i.e., technically a person who has developed tolerance for alcohol and will experience withdrawal symptoms after not drinking for a time) but rather are meant to serve as signposts that a typical, social drinker might be headed for some serious, alcohol-related problems.

Remember: Think well, act well, feel well, be well!

Copyright by Clifford N. Lazarus, Ph.D.

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This post is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional assistance or personal mental health treatment by a qualified clinician.