Addiction and Recovery Information for Individuals, Families and Health Professionals

About Alcohol Abuse and Addiction

Do You Have a Drinking Problem?

To help you decide if you have a drinking problem, look at the self-test page which contains a list of helpful questions. But ask yourself, why do you want to know? Are you concerned about your behavior? Are other people concerned? If so, you probably already know if you have an alcohol problem or not. The only question is whether you are prepared to accept the answer.

What is Moderate Alcohol Use?

Moderate drinking has been defined by the US Department of Health and Human Services and the World Health Organization as follows:

  • The US guidelines suggest no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. A drink is defined as 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of spirits.
  • The WHO guidelines suggest no more than 2 drinks per day, and no more than 5 drinking days per week. They also suggest at least 2 non-drinking days per week.

How Big is a Drink? The Definition of a Standard Alcoholic Drink.

A standard drink is defined as 14 grams of pure alcohol according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. However in Europe the most commonly used standard is 10g of pure alcohol.

  • 1 can of beer (12 oz or 330 ml) at 5% alcohol is one drink
  • 1 glass of wine (5 oz or 140 ml) at 12% alcohol is one drink
  • 1 shot of liquor (1.5 oz or 40 ml) at 40% alcohol is one drink

Note that a 750ml bottle of wine contains 5 drinks. Therefore 2 drinks a day is less than half a bottle of wine a day.

The basic formula for calculating a drink is that each milliliter of pure alcohol weighs 0.79 grams. Therefore, for example, 12 oz of beer or 330 ml of beer x 5% alcohol x 0.79 = 13 grams of pure alcohol.


How Common is Alcohol Abuse? Drinking Facts and Figures

  • Approximately 60% of drinkers drink less than 4 drinks on the days they drink.
  • 20% of drinkers drink 5 or more less than 10% of the time.
  • 9% of drinkers drink 5 or more at least half the time.(1)

Liver Damage: Alcoholic Hepatitis

There are three stages of liver damage: elevated liver enzymes, fatty liver, and cirrhosis.

The most common form of liver damage is elevated liver enzymes. Your doctor can do a simple blood test to check for three liver enzymes (AST, ALT, and GGT). These are usually elevated by heavy drinking over a short period of time, usually weeks or months. This type of damage is most commonly seen in young people and is associated with binge drinking. It is potentially reversible if you stop drinking.

Your liver is designed to filter toxins from your blood, therefore it's designed to repair itself. All you have to do is stop drinking and it will gradually go back to normal.

How do liver enzyme tests work? The enzymes AST, ALT, and GGT normally occur inside liver cells. If your liver is damaged, the enzymes are released into your blood stream and show up in your blood test. Therefore the higher the enzyme count, the greater the liver damage. The most accurate of these tests for alcoholic liver damage is GGT.

The second most common form of liver damage is a ‘fatty’ liver. This can be identified by blood tests and a liver ultrasound, and is also reversible with abstinence. However, fatty liver damage has a greater risk of turning into cirrhosis with continued alcohol abuse.

Repeated liver damage can cause cirrhosis. Your liver is a remarkable organ, but it can only repair itself so many times. After a while your liver won't be able to repair itself and it will turn into scar tissue. Cirrhosis is just the medical term that means part of your liver has turned into scar tissue.

But there is good news. Your liver is a big organ and you have more liver than you need. People can lose 30% of their liver in a car accident and still lead normal lives. So if you have less than 30% cirrhosis and you stop drinking, you can lead a normal life. Your doctor can do an ultrasound to see if you have cirrhosis, and estimate what percent cirrhosis you may have.

Hypertension: High Blood Pressure

More than two drinks a day has been proven to cause high blood pressure. (2) Studies have also shown that reducing or eliminating alcohol use can lower blood pressure.(3)

Cancer Risk and Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse has been shown to significantly increase the risk of most forms of cancer, including mouth, esophagus, breast, stomach, liver, prostate, and colon cancer.(4)

How does alcohol raise cancer risk? The exact mechanism is not completely understood. It is likely that there are several ways in which alcohol raises the risk. Acetaldehyde, a byproduct of alcohol metabolism is thought to be one of the main cause for alcohol related cancers.(5)

In the case of mouth, esophagus, and stomach cancer, alcohol appears to act as a direct irritant that damages tissues. Alcohol may also allow harmful chemicals, such as tobacco smoke, to enter the digestive tract more easily. This explain why smoking and drinking combined are more deadly than either one alone.

Even moderate smoking and drinking increase the risk of esophageal cancer by 15 times.(6)

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer, the leading cause of death in women, is strongly correlated with alcohol abuse. Drinking more than two drinks a day increases the risk of breast cancer by 50%! (6) This result has been confirmed in studies of over one hundred thousand women.

Depression and Alcohol Abuse

Depression is one of the most common, serious consequences of alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse doubles the risk of depression. One study looked at 2,945 alcoholics. 15% were depressed before they began abusing alcohol. 26% were depressed while they were using alcohol, and 15% remained depressed once they had stopped drinking for an extended period.(7)

Alcohol and Pregnancy: Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

It has been shown repeatedly that there is no safe amount of alcohol during pregnancy. Alcohol has a number of effects including low birth weight and risk of prematurity. The common serious side effect of alcohol during pregnancy is fetal alcohol syndrome.

Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder combined occur in nearly one in 100 live births in the US and Great Britain. (8)

Some of the consequences of fetal alcohol syndrome include:

  • learning disabilities
  • depression
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • physical disabilities such as kidney and internal organ diseases
  • skeletal abnormalities including facial deformities

Less Common but Serious Consequences of Alcohol Abuse

  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Impaired immune system
  • Decreased bone density
  • Peripheral nerve damage
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Heart attacks and cardiomyopathy
  • Strokes

Alcohol Withdrawal

Please look at the following link for detailed description of alcohol withdrawal, the symptoms and dangers.

Treatment, Recovery and Relapse Prevention for Alcoholism

If you have decided that you are addicted to alcohol, this is your opportunity to change. Learn more about recovery skills and relapse prevention strategies in the following pages. You can overcome alcoholism. You can change your life.


Last Modified: February 17, 2014

Learn about Alcoholism, alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence. Alcoholic liver damage, alcohol liver disease, elevated liver enzymes, and alcoholic cirrhosis of the liver are discussed. What are Alcohol Withdrawal symptoms? Alcohol Abuse is compared to alcoholism. Alcohol addiction and alcohol dependence and alcoholism are discussed. Learn Alcohol Treatment strategies and alcohol treatment skills. Learn about Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms and how to overcome them. Liver blood test and alcohol liver disease symptoms are included. Discover Relapse Prevention skills for alcohol addiction and alcoholism and relapse prevention strategies and techniques to overcome alcohol addiction and alcoholism. Overcome Alcohol Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms and recover with relapse prevention techniques. The content is provided by Dr. Steven M. Melemis addiction medicine specialist.