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Alcohol Misuse: Early Signs and Symptoms

service member reaching out for care

Army photo by Lance Cpl. Matheus Hernandez

Alcohol is commonly used by service members and civilians alike. It is sometimes used as a social activity with your buddies or a way to cope with stress. Either way, alcohol use can sometimes become harmful without realizing it. Always reach out to a health care provider to discuss your individual situation.

Alcohol misuse can be serious and may negatively affect many areas of your life. Also, it may affect your mission readiness. This puts fellow service members at risk and can have major consequences to your military career. Fortunately, there are many resources that can help you overcome unhealthy alcohol use.

How Much Is Too Much?

It might be difficult to understand what is considered harmful drinking, or even what counts as a “drink.” Although every person is different, use the following information from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism as a guide:


  • Low-Risk: No more than four drinks on any day, 14 drinks per week
  • At-Risk: More than four drinks on any day,14 per week
  • Binge: Five drinks or more over a two-hour period


  • Low-Risk: No more than three drinks on any day, seven drinks per week
  • At-Risk: More than three drinks on any day, seven per week
  • Binge: Four drinks or more over a two-hour period

Consequences of Harmful Drinking

Misusing alcohol can have serious psychological and physical consequences. It can also hurt your relationships, lead to financial trouble, impair decision-making, and cause you to put yourself or others in danger.

Chronic at-risk drinking is linked to a number of psychological health concerns such as:

Alcohol misuse is also associated with a number of health concerns, like

  • Harm to liver and pancreas
  • Chance of heart disease and brain damage
  • Increased risk of cancer

Sustained use can put you at risk for dependence, also called alcohol use disorder. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, some warning signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Drinking more or longer than intended
  • Trying to cut down or stop, but unable
  • Having a strong urge or need to drink
  • Interfering with daily life
  • Having withdrawal symptoms (e.g., trouble sleeping, shakiness and nausea)

Consider a Change

Alcohol use may not feel like a bad habit, even if it is negatively affecting you. Take time to think about your alcohol use to help determine if you should make a change. Using a pro and con worksheet can help. If the pros outweigh the cons, you may be ready to seek care.

Talk with your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about your drinking. Your provider can offer more information on responsible drinking and ways to quit. It’s okay if you are unsure about your drinking habits or not sure a change is needed.

Remember, reaching out is a sign of strength. If you or a loved one needs additional support, contact the Psychological Health Resource Center 24/7 to confidentially speak with a trained health resource consultant, call 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can also visit our "Seek Help, Find Care” page to see a list of key psychological health resources.

Additional Resources

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