Changing Risky Drinking Habits

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

A new Web site and booklet from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) could help many people reduce their risk for alcohol problems. Called Rethinking Drinking, the new materials present evidence-based information about risky drinking patterns, the alcohol content of drinks, and the signs of an alcohol problem, along with information about medications and other resources to help people who choose to cut back or quit drinking. The Web site — — also features interactive tools, such as calculators for measuring alcohol calories and drink sizes. NIAAA is part of the National Institutes of Health.

"About 3 in 10 U.S. adults drink at levels that elevate their risk for alcoholism, liver disease, and a diverse array of other physical, mental health, and social problems. Yet, many people give little thought to their drinking habits and the attendant risks," notes NIH Acting Director Raynard S. Kington, M.D. "These new materials remind all of us to think about how alcohol may be affecting our health."


Based on results of a NIAAA survey of 43,000 U.S. adults, Rethinking Drinking presents single-day and weekly low-risk limits for men and women. For men, these limits are no more than four drinks on any single day and 14 drinks per week, and for women, no more than three drinks on any day and seven per week. Among people who exceed these limits, about 1 in 4 already has alcoholism or alcohol abuse, and the rest are at increased risk for these and other problems.

"People can still have trouble drinking within these limits, especially if they drink too quickly, have certain medical conditions, or are older," says NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth Warren, Ph.D. Dr. Warren adds that Rethinking Drinking presents information previously released in the NIAAA Clinician's Guide in a comprehensive, user-friendly way for the general public, so that anyone who chooses to drink alcohol can evaluate their individual risk.

"We know that many heavy drinkers are able to change on their own," explains Mark Willenbring, M.D., director of NIAAA's Division of Treatment and Recovery Research. "Rethinking Drinking is a convenient, low-cost way to provide the required information and tools for those able to change before they develop symptoms. People who have more severe alcohol involvement will require professional help, and starting with Rethinking Drinking may help them make the decision to seek help at an earlier stage in the disease process. We think Rethinking Drinking will be used in many different settings, such as doctor's offices, colleges, workplaces, the criminal justice system and pastoral counseling."