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Problematic Drinking

Problematic Drinking

First, ask yourself some questions…

  • Do you ever need a drink to get you started in the morning or fall asleep at night?
  • Do you feel guilty about your drinking?
  • Do you or a family member think you need to cut back on how much you drink?
  • Are you annoyed when other people comment on or criticize your drinking habits?

Definition: The term “Problematic Drinking” is used here to cover a wide range of alcohol use and is not meant to just be designated for alcoholics. This tab can be used to help you identify if you may have an issue that could be addressed.

What constitutes a standard drink:

  • Beer: 12 ounces (355 milliliters) and about 5 percent alcohol content.
  • Malt Liquor: 8 to 9 ounces (237 to 266 milliliters) and about 7 percent alcohol content.
  • Wine: 5 ounces (148 milliliters) and about 12 percent alcohol content.
  • Hard Liquor: 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) and about 40 percent alcohol content.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) identifies binge drinking to be five or more drinks in one day for men, and four or more drinks in one day for women. Binge drinking is considered risky drinking as decision making and judgment are impaired, and therefore risky behaviors may ensue. Binge drinking may reflect Alcohol Use Disorder.

Even if you are not consuming this many drinks per day, problematic drinking is not defined by the amount of drinks alone. 

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism outlines warning signs and symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD). If you are questioning whether you have problematic drinking, you are encouraged to see a mental health professional who can help you to recognize any problematic drinking symptoms and identify healthy ways to intervene accordingly. It is never too early or too late to seek professional help.

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. A mental health professional can conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms to see if AUD is present. Talk with your doctor and/or mental health professional to determine the best course of action for you, and for more information see NIAAA’s resources.

Signs (i.e. what may be observed by others) and Symptoms (i.e. what is reported by officer):

  • Not remembering conversations or commitments.
  • Making a ritual of having drinks at certain times and become annoyed when this ritual is disturbed or questioned.
  • Being irritable when your usual drinking time nears, especially if alcohol is not available.
  • Keeping alcohol in unlikely places at home, at work, or in your car.
  • Gulping drinks (i.e. ordering doubles or becoming drunk intentionally to feel good) or drinking to feel “normal”.
  • Having legal problems or problems with relationships, employment, or finances due to drinking.
  • Losing interest in activities and hobbies that used to bring you pleasure.

 Other Issues to Consider:

 As defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (Fifth Edition) (DSM-5) used by psychology professionals, there are 11 areas to watch that could point to concerning alcohol use. They are as follows:

  • Using alcohol in larger amounts (over time to feel the same effects) and/or for longer than you meant to.
  • Wanting to cut down or stop using alcohol but are having a difficult time.
  • Spending a great deal of time acquiring, using, or recovering (hang overs) from drinking alcohol.
  • Experiencing cravings or urges to drink alcohol.
  • Having difficulties at work/home or within your significant relationships due to your alcohol use.
  • Continuing to use regardless of these difficulties.
  • Staying away from and/or not maintaining important commitments in your social, occupational, or recreational activities due to alcohol use.
  • Having difficulty/inability in limiting the amount of alcohol you drink even when it puts your health at risk.
  • Continuing to use even when you are aware that a physical/psychological problem is being caused by or worsened by alcohol use.
  • Developing a tolerance to alcohol so that you need more to feel its effects.
  • Experience physical withdrawal symptoms (such as nausea, sweating and shaking) when you don’t drink and are relieved by using alcohol.

 Self-Help Goals:

 Thought Goal: I drink because I think (insert problematic thought here).

I can stop or lessen my drinking by thinking about:

  • someone or something important to you that has been impacted
  • issues related to your overall wellness
  • changes you have wanted to make for yourself

Feeling Goal: I drink because I feel (insert problematic feeling here). 

I can stop or lessen my drinking by focusing on:

  • what it felt like the last time you felt good sober 
  • the importance of your family, friends, career, upcoming events, etc.

Behavior Goal: I drink because my behavior is (insert problematic behavior here).

I can stop or lessen my drinking by behaving:

  • more like how you first were on the job, with all the excitement and motivation
  • the way you were first in your marriage/relationship
  • more present and engaged in the various parts of your life

These goals are only examples; use them as a guide, not an absolute. You know if there is a problem, let now be the time to fix it.


 Reaching out for help is never a sign of weakness, but rather one of strength. It may be intimidating, annoying, or frustrating to think about what to do and how to approach overcoming this, but it can be done. You do not have to do it alone. If you cannot reach or maintain all of these goals on your own, contact a peer supporter and/or a psychology professional.

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