Alcohol is commonly used to celebrate, relax, or socialize with others. When someone drinks in excess, however, or drinks as a way to cope with stressors or avoid problems, it can create physical and psychological risks.
Alcohol Use Disorder—also known as alcoholism—refers to a problematic pattern of alcohol use that leads to significant impairment or distress. Because alcohol use varies greatly between people, it can be helpful to identify general signs of a problem, such as when drinking interferes with home life, school, or work. Drinking may be problematic if it creates interpersonal difficulties with family and friends or if it leads to a retreat from other activities. Age, family history, and how much or often an individual drinks are other important variables to keep in mind when considering someone's relationship with alcohol.
Alcohol abuse cuts across gender, race, and ethnic lines. Nearly 14 million people—more men than women—in the United States have a problem with alcohol use. Issues surrounding alcohol are highest among young adults ages 18 to 29 and lowest among adults ages 65 and older. Defining and diagnosing Alcohol Use Disorder can be complicated when working with young adults; the lifestyle of college students often includes excessive use of alcohol, making it difficult to ascertain when it is a legitimate disorder and when it isn't.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015–2020, moderate drinking is up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. In the United States, one standard drink contains roughly 14 grams of pure alcohol, which is found in 12 ounces of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12 percent alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40 percent alcohol).