Home Thinking about a change Support for quitting Professional help

Professional help

Advances in alcoholism treatment in recent years have provided more choices for patients and health professionals. In addition to this summary, below, you can review current options in Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help.

  • Medications to treat alcoholism. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved three medications for treating alcohol dependence: naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfuram. Some medications already approved for other conditions have also shown promise for treating alcohol dependence and problem drinking, including varenicline, gabapentin, and topiramate.

    Of the FDA approved medications, the two newer ones (naltrexone and acamprosate) can make it easier to quit drinking by offsetting changes in the brain caused by alcoholism. They don't make you sick if you do drink, unlike the older approved medication (disulfiram).

    None of these medications is addictive. They can be combined with mutual-support groups or behavioral treatments.

    As an alternative to specialty treatment, your regular doctor can treat alcohol problems using the new medications and several brief office visits for support. See Help Links for more information.
  • Behavioral treatments. Often known as alcohol counseling or “talk therapy," behavioral treatments also work well. Several counseling approaches are about equally effective—cognitive-behavioral, motivational enhancement, marital and family counseling, or a combination.

    Getting help in itself appears to be more important than the particular approach used, as long as it offers empathy, avoids heavy-handed confrontation, strengthens motivation, and provides concrete ways to change drinking behavior. See Help Links for organizations to help you find a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, or other substance abuse professional.
  • Specialized, intensive treatment programs.Some people will need more intensive programs. See Help Links for a treatment locator. If you need a referral to a program, ask your doctor.

Feeling depressed or anxious?

It's common for people with alcohol problems to feel depressed or anxious. Mild symptoms may go away if you cut down or stop drinking. See a doctor or mental health professional if symptoms persist or get worse. If you're having suicidal thoughts, call your health care provider, or go to the nearest emergency room right away. Effective treatment is available to help you through this difficult time.

Information about depression, anxiety, and other mental health topics is available from the National Institute of Mental Health.

Is your "lite" beer light in alcohol?

Not necessarily. Although they have fewer calories, many light beers have almost as much alcohol as regular beer—about 85% as much, or 4.2% versus 5.0% alcohol by volume, on average.

Check the alcohol content of your beverage. Malt beverages are not required to list their alcohol content on the labels, so you may need to visit the bottler's Web site.

See What's a standard drink?

How many "drinks" are in a bottle of wine?

A typical 25-ounce (750 ml) bottle of table wine holds about 5 "standard" drinks, each containing about 5 ounces. This serving size of wine contains about the same amount of alcohol as a 12-ounce regular beer or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof spirits.

Get to know what 5 ounces looks like by measuring it out at home. That way you can estimate how many standard drinks you're being served in a restaurant or bar that uses large glasses and generous serving sizes.

See What's a standard drink?

Mixing alcohol with certain medications can cause nausea, headaches, drowsiness, fainting, a loss of coordination, internal bleeding, heart problems, and difficulties in breathing. Alcohol can also make a medication less effective. For more information, see Harmful Interactions: Mixing Alcohol with Medicines.

Examples of medical conditions for which it's safest to avoid drinking include liver disease (such as from hepatitis C), bipolar disorder, abnormal heart rhythm, and chronic pain.

Among the dangers of underage drinking:

Even moderate amounts of alcohol can significantly impair driving performance and your ability to operate other machinery, whether or not you feel the effects of alcohol.

Heavy drinking during pregnancy can cause brain damage and other serious problems in the baby. Because it is not yet known whether any amount of alcohol is safe for a developing baby, women who are pregnant or may become pregnant should not drink.

Highest risk

About 50% of people who drink in this group have an alcohol use disorder.

Increased risk

This "increased risk" category contains three different drinking pattern groups. Overall, nearly 20% of people who drink in this category have an alcohol use disorder.

Low-risk drinking

Only about 2% of drinkers in this group has an alcohol use disorder.

A U.S. "standard" drink contains about 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of "pure" alcohol. That's the amount in 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of table wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits.

Low risk drinking levels - On any single day: Men, no more than 4 drinks on any day. Women, no more than 3 drinks on any day. Per week: Men, no more than 14 drinks per week. Women no more than 7 drinks per week.

Distilled spirits include vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila.

Light to moderate drinking

Heavy or at-risk drinking

Low-risk drinking

Men: No more than 4 drinks on any day and no more than 14 per week

Women: No more than 3 drinks on any day and no more than 7 per week

People with a parent, grandparent, or other close relative with alcoholism have a higher risk for becoming dependent on alcohol. For many, it may be difficult to maintain low-risk drinking habits. For more information, see A Family History of Alcoholism: Are You at Risk?

Pace yourself: It's best to have no more than one standard drink per hour, with nonalcoholic "drink spacers" between alcohol beverages. On any day, stay within low-risk levels of no more than 4 drinks for men or 3 for women. Note that it takes about 2 hours for the adult body to completely break down a single drink. Do not drive after drinking.

For comparison, regular beer is 5% alcohol by volume (alc/vol), table wine is about 12% alc/vol, and straight 80-proof distilled spirits is 40% alc/vol.

The percent alcohol by volume (alc/vol) for distilled spirits is listed on bottle labels and may be found online as well. It is half the "proof," such that 80-proof spirits is 40% alc/vol.

Convert proof to alc/vol

Enter in the proof of the alcohol in the left field to automatically calculate the alc/vol.


  
 

Convert to fluid ounces

Enter in the measurement in milliliters in the left field to automatically calculate the amount in fluid ounces.