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What Is At-Risk Alcohol Drinking?

Heavy Drinking or Binge Drinking


Updated June 20, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Drunk Young Woman

Drunk Young Woman

How do you know if you are drinking too much or too often? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has conducted research to see who is most at risk of abusing alcohol.

What Are the Recommended Levels?

According to the NIAAA, these are the guidelines for "heavy" or "at risk" drinking:
  • Five or More Drinks for Men - Five or more drinks during any one drinking session, or more than 14 drinks a week, is considered risky.
  • Four or More Drinks for Women - Four drinks or more during a day, or more than seven drinks a week, is considered heavy drinking for women.

If you drink less than the above recommended amounts, your level of drinking is considered in the "low risk" category. According to research by the NIAAA, only 2% of people who drink at those levels are at risk for developing alcohol abuse disorders or alcoholism.

At Risk For What?

If you exceed the guidelines, however, your risk for developing alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence increases significantly. Generally, about 25% of people who drink at higher than the recommended guidelines will develop alcohol problems.

Drinking Frequency Counts, Too

The risk also increases if you binge drink or drink heavily on a frequent basis, according to National Institutes of Health research. If you drink heavily only one day a month, your chances of having an alcohol use disorder is about 20%. But if you exceed the guidelines once a week, the chances jump to 33%.

For those who drink heavily twice a week, the chances of developing a problem is 50% - one in every two people. These percentages were found in a study of the drinking patterns of more than 43,000 U.S. adults.

Could You Have a Problem?

If you go out with friends or co-workers during the week and drink five or more drinks (four for women) and you also drink heavily one night during the weekend, there is a 50-50 chance that you will develop an alcohol use disorder, if you don't have one already.

You might want to take this quiz to see if your drinking level might already fall into the definitions of alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. You may want to seek help in cutting down your alcohol consumption or trying to quit.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "What's a Standard Drink (PDF)." Updated 2005.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Rethinking Drinking: Alcohol and Your Health." February 2009.

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