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How Much Must One Drink to be Considered an Alcoholic?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Determining whether or not someone is an alcoholic is not a matter of a simple formula; someone could have one drink a day and have alcoholism, while someone else could drink six glasses of wine in an evening and not be considered an alcoholic. Alcoholism is a very complex disease, and a diagnosis of alcoholism relies on several symptoms and factors which are considered together, ranging from a genetic predisposition to alcoholism to the drinking habits of the patient. If you are concerned that someone you know may be developing an alcohol dependence, you should be aware that many people with alcohol abuse and dependence issues are in denial, so you should approach this person carefully about the issue.

Alcoholism is a chronic disease which is characterized by the continued use of alcohol despite social, legal, or health complications. An alcoholic tends to develop an obsession with alcohol, losing the ability to control his or her drinking, and many alcoholics also experience distorted thinking and denial.

Some signs that someone may be an alcoholic include consistent heavy drinking, along with drinking at inappropriate times, such as early in the morning. If someone has experienced problems at work or school due to drinking and he or she persists, this can be an indicator of alcoholism. Someone who repeatedly drinks and drives or drinks and engages in other dangerous activities is also displaying signs of alcoholism.

Drinking alone, hiding alcohol in strange places, and trying to conceal alcohol consumption from others are also symptoms of alcoholism, as is an inability to account for how much alcohol has been consumed. An alcoholic can also experience frequent blackouts related to drinking, along with health problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption, and personality changes linked to drinking.

When people start to experience problems with interpersonal relationships as a result of alcohol, combined with feelings of guilt and a desire to cut down on drinking but an inability to do so, this is a strong indicator that they may be experiencing alcohol dependence. Alcoholics may also manifest a fixation on alcohol, insisting on alcohol for all social occasions and demonstrating a lack of interest in events where alcohol will not be present.

Treatment for alcohol addiction can approach the problem from a number of angles. Not all treatments work for everyone, and it can take time for an alcoholic to find a therapist or treatment plan which is effective. Patient support from friends and family members is important, with many friends and family members of alcoholics taking advantage of support programs which show them how to help with recovery.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon1001895 — On Jul 18, 2019

My boyfriend goes on binge drinking episodes that last anywhere from 4 to 8 days. He does it about every 8-10 months. I am not sure if this is alcoholism. He tells me that he occasionally suffers from anxiety and taken meds for it.

I am confused on whether he is an alcoholic because of this. He is a great person when he does not drink and there are event occasional times when we can drink 1-2 beers and stop and not binge, granted he does not drink often. I am just confused about these episodes as he drinks to a point where nothing else matters going from beer to hard liquor and does not stop for days. Please help. Any comments, suggestions, and advice are appreciated. Thanks.

By anon989895 — On Mar 26, 2015

Not all treatments work for everyone. It is important to note that having completed extended stays in detox facilities is not treatment. Alcoholism is a sickness and should also be treated medically. Naltrexone therapy helps but where there is compliance issues, one should consider the Naltrexone implant.

By anon252493 — On Mar 05, 2012

If your wife drinks at least a six pack or more of beer daily and shows no signs of being drunk, but just goes quietly to bed, is she an alcoholic?

By anon153693 — On Feb 17, 2011

You don't have to drink alcohol to be an alcoholic. I am a teetotaller and have been for 47 years and I'm 54. There are times when I want a drink and crave alcohol. I don't do it. I am pretty sure if I had a drink I couldn't stop. There is alcoholism in my family and I am part American Indian. There are many like me, teetotallers who are alcoholics.

By anon146955 — On Jan 27, 2011

Can I ask a question?

My mom drinks frequently, and whenever she does, she drinks to the point of getting drunk. She drinks almost every night, if not every night. I have confronted her about it, and she promises to try harder because it upsets me, but she goes back to drinking either that night or the following one. My father drinks all of the time. He always has white russians, every time he gets home from work, when he goes down to his office, at night...

But the thing is, his personality doesn't change, which i think is because he has developed such a high tolerance for it. But, my mom's personality changes a lot. She glares at me and gets really moody and slow.

Are my parents alcoholics? Please help, I am at my last straw.

By anon136459 — On Dec 22, 2010

I don't know what to think. I have been married to my husband for 21 years. He has been an alcoholic for 31 years. We have had many financial difficulties in the last six years.

Last month I found three empty bottles of vodka hidden in his office. He said he likes to have a drink every once in a while. He said he did not want to tell me because he knew I would react like I have.

He did say that he was in treatment when he was 18 and it was just him being a stupid college student. I don't believe him because he was and still is trying to hide it from me. Do I need to be concerned? He usually has a drink at night when he gets home from work. It hasn't interfered with work; it has only caused problems with him and me.

By anon133098 — On Dec 09, 2010

This article made me roll my eyes a bit, especially the part that said a person can be an alcoholic if he/she has just one drink per day. That's ridiculous.

While it is true that some people are obsessed with alcohol, it is equally true that for whatever reason, some people are obsessed with whether other people are alcoholics or not (it probably results from living with a family member who is/was perceived to be a heavy drinker or alcoholic).

Nothing is more annoying than to have the sense that others are monitoring your alcohol consumption to determine if you're an alcoholic. That alone can potentially drive a person to drink even more. Among some people, there seems to be a sense of hysteria and hyper-awareness about whether the level of another person's drinking is appropriate or not.

If you're truly an alcoholic, it's going to be obvious. Among the people I know, there is no doubt in my mind as to who is possibly an alcoholic and who is not. You don't have to read the tea leaves to figure it out.

By afterall — On Nov 13, 2010

From my own experience, I believe the idea that "once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic", although I really think this is true for any addiction. I have had many heavy drinkers in my family, and because of this and other reasons I don't drink. While I try not to see the signs of an alcoholic in every habitual drinker I meet, I find it difficult to live in our society when so many people criticize my abstinence more than anyone criticizes their excesses.

By recapitulate — On Nov 13, 2010

@aaaCookie, you make a good point. Another difficulty is that drunkenness, at least among people under thirty, is no longer seen as a particularly embarrassing state in social situations. Many people see getting drunk occasionally as just a by-product of a culture where everyone drinks. While some might grow tired of this after a few years, there are still people who view alcohol this way their entire lives; even if they are not really alcoholics, they still view drinking in a very unhealthy way.

By aaaCookie — On Nov 13, 2010

One of the difficulties of identifying an alcoholic is that in modern society, many people view drinking as a general form of socializing. Many who drink do so every day, and while they do not do so to excess, it can still be seen as a habit of drinking alcohol; the difficulty is drawing that line between that habit and a real dependency and whether or not someone who drinks each day does so because he or she cannot socialize or otherwise live without it.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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