Some thinking about drinking...

By Assessments By Yount | Jan 13, 2014
Photo by: National Institutes of Health Drinking Limits By Gender

The holidays are behind us now and the courts will soon be processing those folks, who were arrested for DWI. Maybe you avoided a DWI but have other “costs” such as behavior that embarrassed you or your loved ones at the office party or at a friend’s party. Maybe you said something while intoxicated that hurt someone close to you. Perhaps you woke up the morning after drinking and couldn’t remember what was said or done the night before or maybe there is just this ongoing sense of anxiety and worry over how much you drink.  (Want help now? Skip to the final paragraph!)

Even if none of this happened to you personally, it is always good for folks, who drink alcohol, to stop and assess their relationship to the drug from time to time. Now is as good a time as any… Do you know if you are a “low risk” drinker or a “high risk” drinker?

According to recently released literature from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 35% of adults in the United States do not drink at all, 37% of adults always drink at “low risk” levels, and 28% of adults drink at “heavy or at-risk levels”. This latter category, roughly 3 in 10 adults, drink at levels that put them at risk for alcoholism, liver disease, and other chronic health problems.

While the number of drinks per day and the number of days per week of drinking are important variables in determining risk for problems associated with the abuse of alcohol, there are other variables such as age, gender, and family history that also come into play when assessing risk. For instance, individuals, who choose to drink AND have a first generation family member with alcoholism or drug dependence, is four times MORE likely to develop similar dependence than are those individuals without a comparable family history. First generation family members are considered to be parents and siblings.

Because of the way women’s bodies metabolize or process alcohol, they tend to develop alcoholism and problems associated with alcohol abuse faster than do males. Historically, women tended to get to treatment later in their disease than did men. There have been a number of societal variables that contributed to that outcome including responsibility for children and social stigma. Hopefully, the last couple of decades have seen improvement in those arenas.

All individuals over 65, regardless of gender, are at risk for developing drinking related problems. As we age, our bodies tend to deal with alcohol differently than when we were younger. Additionally, individuals with mental health issues such as depression and bipolar disorder are significantly at risk for development of co-occurring substance use disorders.

With regard to numbers of drinks per day and number of days drinking per week, a nationwide survey by the National Institutes of Health looked at the drinking patters of 43,000 U.S. Adults. The results of the study indicated that only about 2 in 100 people, who drink less than 4 drinks per day (males) or 3 drinks per day (females) AND have no more than a total of 14 drinks per week (males) or 7 drinks per week (females), develop alcohol abuse or alcoholism. For both genders, “low risk” drinking for those over 65 is considered to be no more than 3 drinks per day AND no more than 7 drinks per week.

So what constitutes a drink? Historically, one 12 ounce beer, 5 ounces of unfortified wine, and one ounce of 100 proof liquor have been considered a drink. With the advent of microbreweries and craft beers, this equation has become more complicated due to higher levels of alcohol typically found in those beers. This makes it necessary for folks, who choose to drink, to be more educated about how much alcohol they are putting into their system in order to stay within the “low risk” category.

Just because it is “low risk” doesn’t mean “no risk” to the drinker or to the public. Individuals can easily be too impaired to operate a motor vehicle even if drinking in the “low risk” levels. In North Carolina, everyone is assumed to be too impaired to operate a motor vehicle at a blood alcohol level of .08 but that doesn’t mean that a person can’t be impaired at lower levels. Research indicates that loss of judgment and inhibition control actually occurs around a blood alcohol level of .04. Medications, whether legally prescribed or not, can cause greater impairment for individuals when combined with alcohol. The blood alcohol concentration may not be higher but the level of impairment can be significantly more dangerous.

There are many resources available for folks, who would like to check their risk levels for developing alcohol related problems. One good on-line resource is NIH Publication No. 13-3770. Contact your physician for assistance, go to your EAP representative at work, or call one of the many qualified behavioral health counselors in the area. For a listing of some of those resources, visit or call 828-454-5253 for additional information. Additionally, email with questions may be sent to