Health Library

Categories > Relationships > Substance abuse

Alcohol: What’s too much?

Do you need more alcohol than usual to get a buzz? Do you have blackouts or miss work because of your drinking? Do you ever drink alone? If so, you may be alcohol dependent or suffer from alcoholism.

You may not realize that you have a drinking problem because your habits are ingrained, but your loved ones probably know. In fact, they may be trying to figure out how to broach the subject. Or perhaps you’re the friend or relative of someone who’s abusing liquor. How do you know when someone drinks too heavily? And how can you get help for someone in need?

Problem drinkers tend to have:

  • increased tolerance for alcohol, needing more drinks to feel drunk as time passes
  • blackouts or memory lapses after a night of drinking
  • violent behavior while drinking
  • regular instances of drinking alone
  • a lack of control or willpower regarding alcohol
  • absences from work or a decrease in job quality
  • hostility when anyone brings up the problem

In the past, it was widely believed that confronting someone about an alcohol problem was the best way to get him or her to seek treatment. These so-called “interventions,” where friends and family would gather to talk to someone about his drinking en masse have even been depicted in movies and on TV. But today, experts believe that friends and family are most effective in getting problem drinkers to seek help when they privately discuss the matter with empathy and compassion. Gently explain how you’ve noticed that your friend or relative’s drinking gets in the way of relationships and personal or professional goals.

Getting support

Once someone decides to seek treatment for a drinking problem, a variety of places offer support. Many people go to detoxification centers to withdraw from alcohol surrounded by trained medical professionals who can prescribe medications to alleviate symptoms. Rehab centers offer in- and outpatient therapy. If rehab isn’t a good fit, counseling from a psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

Support groups offer long-term aid to problem drinkers who want to reduce or eliminate their connection with alcohol. Check the Yellow Pages under “Alcoholism” or visit the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s “Rethinking Drinking” website at for groups in your area.