When people search for information about alcoholism and problem drinking they universally desire concrete and hopefully reassuring facts…unfortunately, as with seemingly everything surrounding substance use and abuse, everything is relative, and what may be safe for one, completely dangerous for another.
The National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends no more than two drinks per day as a safe amount, and that for certain groups, such as pregnant women and people taking medications…and of course recovering alcoholics, abstaining is the only sound policy. These are very cautious and surely safe guidelines, but I’m not sure how helpful they really are to people wondering about their levels of consumption. People wondering about their drinking are very unlikely consuming two or less drinks in a sitting, and yet they may very well not have any real problem with alcohol.
I don’t think that issuing a quantity based consumption guideline offers much assistance to those trying to evaluate the level of their usage, and I think a far better criteria is simply, if you are wondering if you have a problem…you very likely do! People who consume alcohol socially, and rarely think about drinking or feel a need to drink, do not have an alcohol problem, regardless of how many drinks they may or consume in a sitting; and people who do crave alcohol, drink more than they had intended to, or drink even when they suffer consequences because of that drinking, do very likely do need to cut down or quit altogether.
I’ve tried the whole cut down to moderation thing…didn’t work for me, but for many simply evaluating drinking behaviors and making a conscious effort to reduce consumption greatly reduces the risks to use and of developing addictions. My advice to anyone wondering about their drinking is simply to take three months off. If you can abstain for three months without undo difficulty, then you very unlikely have anything to worry about…but if you find yourself drinking for whatever reason before that three months has passed, take a good hard look at yourself, and consider whether treatment may be needed. If three months off sounds too hard…then you really need to take a good long break.
Treatment help is always easier and more effective when accessed earlier rather than later, and if you are wondering about your drinking, it’s time to take some steps to ensure that you’re OK, and if not, to get help.