Some service members and civilians describe “self-medicating” with alcohol in an effort to feel better. Some may use it to cope with stress or may think it is helpful for unwinding after a long day. Either way, alcohol can become harmful when overused.
When alcohol use becomes alcohol misuse, it can negatively impact many areas of your life, including your finances, relationships, physical and psychological health. It may even affect your mission readiness. This puts fellow service members at risk and can have major consequences to your military career. Learn what is considered excessive drinking, how it impacts your health and resources for changing unhealthy drinking habits.
How Much Is Too Much?
For drinkers and non-drinkers alike, it might not be clear what counts as excessive drinking. Excessive alcohol use includes heavy drinking and binge drinking. The more alcohol you consume, the more you increase your risk for developing short-term and long-term health concerns.
If you choose to drink alcohol, it should be consumed in moderation. Use the following information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a guide:
- Moderate Drinking: Up to two drinks per day
- Heavy Drinking: More than four drinks per day or 15 drinks or more per week
- Binge Drinking: Five drinks or more over a two or three-hour period
- Moderate Drinking: Up to one drink per day
- Heavy Drinking: More than three drinks per day or eight drinks or more per week
- Binge Drinking: Four drinks or more over a two or three-hour period
Another important factor to keep in mind is what counts as a “standard” drink. Check out the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) cocktail content calculator tool to see how much alcohol is really in your favorite drink. For example, a single gin and tonic contains around 1.6 standard drinks. Understanding your drinking habits can help you make healthier choices moving forward.
Consequences of Excessive Drinking
Excessive alcohol use can have serious physical and psychological consequences. It can also hurt your relationships, impair decision-making and cause you to put yourself or others in danger. Since alcohol reduces your inhibitions, excessive use can increase the risk of injuries, accidents and risky sexual behaviors.
Chronic excessive drinking can lead to physical and psychological health concerns such as:
- Digestive problems
- Liver disease
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Sleep problems
Continued excessive drinking can put you at risk for alcohol use disorder. Some symptoms 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
- Giving up or reducing important activities because of alcohol use
- Having withdrawal symptoms (e.g., trouble sleeping, shakiness and nausea)
Consider A Change
Talk with your health care provider if you have questions or concerns about your drinking. Your provider can offer information and resources on responsible drinking and options for quitting.
Reaching out for help can keep you mission ready. Call the Psychological Health Resource Center at 866-966-1020 or use the Real Warriors Live Chat. You can speak confidentially 24/7 with a trained health resource consultant for help accessing care.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2019). Alcohol Use and Your Health.
Make the Connection. (n.d.). Alcohol or Drug Problems.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Alcohol Use Disorder.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). Drinking Levels Defined.
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (n.d.). What Are Symptoms of Alcohol Use Disorder?
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. (2015). 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition.