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4 things to know about risky drinking

Alcohol and ice in a tumbler.

Sept. 18, 2020—Knowledge is power when it comes to avoiding the potentially serious consequences of alcohol. For starters, check out these facts from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

1. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the U.S. About 1 in every 17 adults struggles with an alcohol use disorder. Millions more engage in risky drinking.

2. Dangerous drinking does real damage. Consider a few stats about alcohol's extreme impacts:

  • Excessive alcohol use is linked to 88,000 deaths per year.
  • Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
  • Alcohol misuse costs the U.S. about $249 billion per year.

3. Alcohol can cause serious health problems. For instance, binge drinking (drinking a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time) or heavy drinking (binge drinking on five or more days a month) can increase the risk of:

  • Infections due to a weakened immune system.
  • Stroke.
  • Heart problems, such as irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure.
  • Cancer, including liver, oral, esophageal and breast cancers.
  • Liver disease, including cirrhosis.
  • Pancreatitis.
  • Alcohol use disorder.
  • Car crashes and other accidents.
  • Violent behavior.
  • Suicide.

4. Alcohol use disorder has little to do with what you drink. Whether a person is dependent on beer, wine or liquor, they have an uncontrollable need for alcohol—a need that can feel as strong as a craving for food or water.

Know the warning signs

Could you be at risk for or already have a drinking problem? The following can help you find out. For example, you could have a drinking problem if, in the past year, you:

  • Ever drank more, or for longer, than you intended.
  • Unsuccessfully tried to cut back or stop more than once.
  • Got into dangerous situations involving alcohol.
  • Had to drink more to get the same buzz.
  • Kept drinking even though it made you feel depressed or added to another health problem.
  • Spent a lot of time drinking or recovering from a hangover.
  • Kept drinking even though it was causing trouble with family or friends.
  • Found that drinking interfered with home or work responsibilities.
  • Missed out on other things you care about so you could drink.
  • Had legal troubles because of drinking.

Ask for help

If you're concerned about your alcohol use—and you want to make a change—you don't have to go it alone. Your doctor can help you find treatment. Ask friends and family to support your decision too.

Addressing a drinking problem early can help it from getting much worse.

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