How Much Alcohol Is Too Much? Moderate Drinker or Alcholic

What is alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse is when you drink in a harmful way or when you’re dependent on alcohol. Alcohol abuse, often known as alcohol misuse, is a major issue. It’s a habit of consuming excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis. It gets in the way of your day-to-day activities. If you drink too much alcohol at once or too frequently during the week, you may be suffering from alcohol abuse. It’s also a concern if your drinking has a negative impact on your relationships. It can make it difficult for you to perform at work and in other aspects of your life.

How much do you have to drink to be considered alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse can lead to alcoholism­­­—a physical dependency on alcohol. Too much alcohol at one time also can lead to alcohol poisoning.

A unit of alcohol is 8g or 10ml of pure alcohol, which is about:

  • half a pint of lower to normal-strength lager/beer/cider (ABV 3.6%)
  • a single small shot measure (25ml) of spirits (25ml, ABV 40%)

A small glass (125ml, ABV 12%) of wine contains about 1.5 units of alcohol.

You are abusing alcohol when:

  • You drink 7 drinks per week or more than 3 drinks per occasion (for women).
  • You drink more than 14 drinks per week or more than 4 drinks per occasion (for men).
  • You have more than 7 drinks per week or more than 3 drinks per occasion (for men and women older than 65).

Signs and Symptoms of alcohol abuse

These are some of the Signs and Symptoms of alcohol abuse:

  • You have tried stopping using alcohol for a week or more but can’t make it past a few days.
  • You can’t stop drinking once you start.
  • You recognise you need to stop or cut back.
  • You are unable to perform at work or home when you are drinking.
  • You feel guilty after drinking.
  • Others are telling you that you have a problem.
  • You feel annoyed by criticism of your drinking.
  • You have a drink in the morning to get yourself going after drinking too much the night before.
  • You have physically hurt someone else or yourself after drinking too much. This could be due to accidents or violence.
  • You hide your drinking or your alcohol.
  • You have blackouts and memory lapses after drinking too much.
  • You are depressed.
  • You are getting traffic or driving tickets while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Your drinking is interfering with your relationships.
  • Your hands are shaking.

What causes alcohol abuse?

Alcohol abuse occurs for a variety of reasons. It could be due to peer pressure, a need to unwind, a coping technique for anxiety, depression, stress, loneliness, self-doubt or unhappiness, or a history of alcohol abuse in the family.

Can alcohol abuse be prevented or avoided?

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, men and women are advised not to drink more than the recommended weekly units.

If you have a family history of alcoholism or alcohol abuse, you may have to work harder at resisting or limiting alcohol. Other ways to reduce your alcohol consumption include:

  • Limiting yourself to one drink when by yourself or with friends.
  • Seeking treatment for underlying mental health conditions.
  • Avoid spending time with others who abuse alcohol.
  • Talking to your doctor. Your doctor may screen for alcohol abuse.
  • Consider joining a support group made up of others facing the same challenge.

Low-risk drinking advice

To keep your risk of alcohol-related harm low:

  • men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 7 and 14 units of alcohol a week.
  • if you drink as much as 14 units a week, it’s best to spread this evenly over 3 or more days
  • if you’re trying to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it’s a good idea to have several alcohol-free days each week
  • if you’re pregnant or trying to become pregnant, the safest approach is to not drink alcohol at all to keep risks to your baby to a minimum

Regular or frequent drinking means drinking alcohol most days and weeks. The risk to your health is increased by drinking any amount of alcohol on a regular basis.

Risks of Alcohol Abuse and alcoholism

Alcohol has various adverse effects on your health. It is a leading cause of accident-related deaths and injuries. Cirrhosis, a liver disease, can be caused by it. If you drink alcohol while pregnant, it can harm your baby’s health. It might lead to a bleeding ulcer and irritate the stomach lining. Alcohol can also make you gain weight, make you feel ill or disoriented, cause bad breath, and trigger acne breakouts.

Short term

The short-term risks of alcohol abuse include:

  • Accidents and injuries that need hospitalisation, such as brain injury
  • violent behaviour and being a victim of violence.
  • sex that isn’t protected and could result in an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted illnesses (STIs)
  • loss of personal possessions, such as wallets, keys or mobile phones
  • Alcohol poisoning can cause vomiting, fits (seizures), and unconsciousness.

Binge drinkers (those who consume a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time) are more likely to act recklessly and are more likely to be involved in an accident.

Long term

Persistent alcohol abuse increases your risk of serious health conditions, including:

  • alcohol use disorder
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • liver disease
  • liver cancer
  • bowel cancer
  • mouth cancer
  • breast cancer
  • pancreatitis

Long-term alcohol addiction can cause significant health problems and social issues such as unemployment, divorce, domestic abuse, and homelessness for some people.

Dependent drinking occurs when a person loses control of their drinking and develops an overwhelming desire to drink (alcoholism).

Alcohol dependence has a negative impact on a person’s quality of life and relationships, although they may not recognise or accept this.

Drinkers who are severely dependent on alcohol are often able to tolerate very high quantities of alcohol in amounts that would be harmful to others or even kill them.

If a dependent drinker suddenly cuts down or stops drinking, they frequently experience physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • hand tremors – “the shakes”
  • sweating
  • seeing things that are not real (visual hallucinations)
  • depression
  • anxiety
  • insomnia

This often leads to “relief drinking” to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Alcohol Abuse and pregnancy

Pregnant women and women who are attempting to conceive should avoid consuming alcohol, according to the Department of Health and Social Care.

Drinking during pregnancy can cause long-term harm to the baby, and the risk grows as you consume more alcohol.

To limit the risk to your baby to a minimum, the Chief Medical Officers of the United Kingdom advise that if you’re pregnant or expecting to become pregnant, the safest strategy is to avoid drinking alcohol altogether.

Talk to your doctor or midwife if you’re concerned about drinking while pregnant.

If you’re attempting to conceive, your partner should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol every week, spaced out across at least three days. Drinking alcohol excessively can affect the quality of his sperm.

How is alcohol abuse diagnosed?

Many individuals who abuse alcohol will learn that they have a problem through family and friends. Doctors believe a person is misusing alcohol when they see that:

  • Drinking interferes with your responsibilities at work, home, or school.
  • Drinking puts you or someone else in physical danger (driving, operating machinery, mixing alcohol and medicine, drinking alcohol while pregnant).
  • It leads to legal problems.
  • It harms your relationships.

Questions to ask your doctor before alcohol addiction treatment

  • Is it possible to start abusing alcohol when you’re older?
  • Will prescription medications used for alcohol abuse interact with other medicines I take for my health?
  • Can I use antidepressants while receiving alcoholism treatment?
  • Can I drink once in a while if I’m a recovering alcoholic who can stop after one drink?
  • What are the signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal?

Alcohol abuse treatment

If you are the one who is abusing alcohol, the first step is to admit that you need treatment. Many studies have shown that those battling alcoholism can benefit from treatment.

Not all therapies are effective for everyone. However, everyone is different. The sooner a person receives treatment, the better the chances are of a positive outcome.

How a person is treated for alcohol abuse is determined by how much alcohol they consume.

Treatment options include:

  • counselling – including self-help groups and talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT);
  • medicines;
  • Detoxification – this involves a nurse or doctor assisting you in safely quitting drinking; this can be done by guiding you through a gradual reduction in alcohol consumption or by prescribing medications to alleviate withdrawal symptoms.

Medicines used to treat alcohol abuse

Some prescription drugs can help people stop or cut back on their alcohol consumption. Some drugs, like all others, may cause negative effects.

Two types of medications can be used to help people stop drinking.

The first is given in gradually decreasing amounts over a short time to deal with withdrawal symptoms. Chlordiazepoxide is the most prevalent of these medications (Librium).

The second is a drug that will help you resist the impulse to drink. Acamprosate and naltrexone are the most often used medications for this.

Both medications have a set dose and are typically used for 6 to 12 months.

Living with alcohol abuse

It’s critical to persist with a treatment that works for you once you’ve discovered one. It’s also a good idea to stay away from situations where there’s a lot of drinking.

Recognising the triggers that make you want to drink is an integral part of living with alcoholism. Hanging out with people who drink, for example, will make it challenging for you. You’re not alone if you don’t have a counsellor or a buddy to talk to about your stress or sadness. This may lead to you turning to alcohol as a coping mechanism.

If you do not acknowledge that you need treatment, you will continue to struggle with alcohol consumption. Your safety, career or education, and relationships will all be compromised.

Alcohol Addiction

Getting help for Alcohol Abuse

A great first step if you’re concerned about your or someone else’s drinking is to see a doctor. They’ll be able to talk about the available services and treatments.

In addition to the NHS, many charities and support organisations across the UK offer help and advice to people addicted to alcohol. For example, you may want to contact:

  • Drinkline national alcohol helpline on 0300 123 1110
  • Alcoholics Anonymous helpline on 0800 9177 650
  • Al-Anon Family Groups helpline on 0800 0086 811

You can also call us on 0800 999 1083 for confidential help and to discuss treatment options.

Last Edited: September 19th, 2022
Clinically Reviewed: July 6, 2022
Compare Rehab UK | How Much Alcohol Is Too Much? Moderate Drinker or Alcholic
Clinical Reviewer


BACP accredited psychotherapist with 16 years experience working in mental health specialising in psychodynamic person-centred therapies treating those with a range of mental health disorders including anxiety, depression, OCD and Addiction.