How to Recognize the Signs of Alcohol Abuse

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April is Alcohol Awareness Month, an important time to recognize the impact that alcohol has on society. It exists to raise awareness about the effects of problem alcohol use, recognize those who have overcome a drinking problem, and provide hope to those still trying to escape the cycle.
Alcohol abuse is a serious problem in the United States. Not all alcohol use is harmful. The majority of people who drink can do so without any harm done. However, there is another significant portion of the population that struggles to drink normally. No matter what they do they cannot seem to control the amount they consume. Nor can they stay stopped when they want to.
Do you know what problematic drinking behaviors look like? One of the primary goals of Alcohol Awareness Month is to teach people how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse. Knowing what to look for can make the difference between someone getting the help they need and someone slipping through the cracks of alcoholism.

The History of Alcohol Awareness Month

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) first announced Alcohol Awareness Month in 1987.1  They recognized that many people had a false idea of what someone with an alcohol problem “looked like.” These false perceptions allowed many so-called “high-functioning alcoholics” to fly under the radar unnoticed.

NCADD’s goal with Alcohol Awareness Month was to encourage people to learn more about alcoholism (now referred to as alcohol use disorder). Raising awareness reduces the stigma, shame, and embarrassment that surrounds the false assumptions about problem drinking. This helps people who were suffering in silence come forward about their problem drinking behaviors.

Alcohol-Free Weekend kicks off the campaign and takes place the first weekend in April. It is a pivotal event for Alcohol Awareness Month because it encourages people to take an honest look at their drinking. 72 alcohol-free hours are a simple feat for someone who doesn’t have a problem with alcohol. If someone has difficulties going three days without a drink, though, this could be a sign of a larger problem.

What is “Just One Drink”?

There’s no denying the prevalence of alcohol in society. You can find a drink just about anywhere you go. Alcohol is everywhere, from dinner with your family to the movie theater with a date, a sporting event with your friends to a birthday party for your niece or nephew.
According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans2, a standard drink consists of 14 grams of pure alcohol. A general idea of one standard drink means:
Most drinks fall somewhere within this range, but there are hundreds of variations across different beverage types. Some beers contain half the alcohol content of a normal beer while others have more than twice that amount. Similarly, the alcohol content in wines and distilled spirits can range excessively.

Differentiating Between Drinking Levels

Knowing how to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse starts with understanding the different drinking levels. Not everyone who consumes alcohol has a problem. According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 50% of people in the United States had at least one drink in the last month. Still, even people who drink daily may not have an issue if forced to stop.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is responsible for gathering and sharing knowledge about the effects of alcohol. They outline nationally accepted levels of drinking that describe different behaviors with alcohol consumption.3  The four levels of drinking include:

Drinking in Moderation

Drinking in moderation is considered 2 alcoholic drinks or less per day for men, or 1 alcoholic drink or less per day for women.

Binge Drinking

Binge drinking is defined as 5 or more alcoholic drinks for men or 4 or more alcoholic drinks for women during the same occasion on at least one day in the last month. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 22.2% of the population (61.6 million people) binge drank at least once in the last year.4

Heavy Alcohol Use

Heavy alcohol use consists of 5 or more days of binge drinking in the past month. The NSDUH shows that 6.4% of people were heavy alcohol users in the past month.

Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is not a level of drinking; it is a chronic, relapsing medical condition that consists of compulsive and uncontrolled drinking.5 People who are binge drinkers or heavy alcohol users are at risk of developing alcohol use disorder if they do not seek help. 10.2% of people met the criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder in the last year according to the NSDUH.

How to Recognize the Signs of Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Use Disorder

Both binge drinking and heavy alcohol use qualify as alcohol abuse. Neither pattern of drinking is healthy or safe, and both come with negative effects. Abusing alcohol greatly increases the chances of the onset of alcohol use disorder. Any binge drinking or heavy alcohol use is a clear sign of alcohol abuse and a possible alcohol use disorder.
Are you wondering whether someone you love struggles with their drinking behavior? The following are some of the ways to recognize the signs of alcohol abuse or alcohol use disorder:
If your loved one shows any of these signs, they may need help to stop drinking. There is nothing healthy or normal about these drinking behaviors. The longer they go without receiving help, the worse their drinking problem will become.

Find Help for Alcohol Abuse at Clearview Treatment Programs

Thankfully, alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder is not the end of the road. Treatment facilities are available to help people struggling to control their drinking. There are varying levels of care to meet the needs of each person looking for help, from inpatient treatment and partial hospitalization programs to intensive outpatient programs and alcohol counseling.

Clearview Treatment Programs is the premier treatment network in Southern California, offering programs for those trying to overcome their alcohol problem. If you or a loved one cannot stop drinking, Clearview can help. We offer a range of services to help anyone who wants to quit drinking and have been the leaders in behavioral healthcare in the area for the last 20 years.

To learn more about the programs available at Clearview, please reach out to us. Our admissions team is waiting to answer your questions and connect you with the program that’s right for you or your loved one today!


  1. National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. (2021). Alcohol Awareness Month.
  2. Drinking Patterns and Their Definitions. (2018). Alcohol Research Current Reviews.
  3. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2022). Drinking Levels Defined.
  4. Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration. (2021). Results from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
  5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (2016). Alcohol Use Disorder.

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