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Problem Drinking

What is Problem Drinking?

Problem drinking is using alcohol in ways that are harmful to the drinker or to others. People who are problem drinkers may have the disease of alcoholism or may drink in ways that lead to health or safety problems for themselves or to others. The Alcohol Cost Calculator developed by Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems focuses on the most severe types of problem drinking — alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse.

What is Alcohol Dependence or Alcoholism?

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence or alcohol addiction, is a chronic disease with four primary symptoms:

  • Craving: A strong need or compulsion to drink.
  • Loss of control: The inability to limit one's drinking on any given occasion.
  • Physical dependence: Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety occur when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking.
  • Tolerance: The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol over time in order to get high.

What is Alcohol Abuse?

During the course of a year, a person who meets diagnostic criteria of alcohol abuse will experience at least one of the following drinking-related problems:

  • Inability to fulfill major work, school or home responsibilities;
  • Drinking in situations that are physically dangerous, such as while driving a car or operating machinery;
  • Having recurring alcohol-related legal problems, such as being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or for physically hurting someone while drunk; or
  • Continuing to drink despite having ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by the drinking.

What are other types of problem drinking?

The Alcohol Cost Calculator provides estimates of the likely number of people who have an alcohol use disorder — either alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse. There is a broader spectrum of alcohol-related drinking patterns that can cause grave problems for individuals, families, employers, and communities. Experts now understand that people can drink in a wide range of unhealthy and unsafe ways — from occasionally having as little as a single drink and then driving to being addicted to alcohol — and that unsafe drinking takes a toll in the workforce and at home. The total impact of the spectrum of problem drinking to a company, its employees and their families is likely to be greater than the results shown by the Alcohol Cost Calculator.

What is Heavy Drinking?

Federal government surveys characterize heavy drinking as having five or more drinks on at least five occasions during a month, but it is important to remember that alcohol problems can and do occur at much lower levels of consumption.

What is Binge Drinking?

Drinking five or more drinks on at least one occasion during a month is considered binge drinking. When heavy drinkers consume five or more drinks on a single occasion, they are bingeing, but not everyone who binges is a heavy drinker. Binge drinking puts individuals at serious risk for an alcohol problem.

What is Risky Drinking?

Drinking in ways that are likely to lead to trauma or adverse health effects, including alcoholism, is considered risky drinking.

For more on the range of alcohol problems, see the Ensuring Solutions to Alcohol Problems primer Understanding the Problem Drinking Continuum. The primer is available from the Ensuring Solutions Website,

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