what is considered heavy drinking

Do you find yourself drinking a lot of alcohol? When you go out with friends, do you find yourself having one drink after another, sometimes even after your friends have finished drinking for the night? Maybe you stay in by yourself and have more than just a couple of drinks.

It can be difficult to know how much alcohol is too much, especially if you’re used to drinking a lot or spending time with other people who do. Alcohol is a tool many people use to relax after a long day or to have a good time with friends.

Feeling like your heavy drinking is getting out of control can be frustrating and scary. You may feel like you’re no longer able to stop when you want to, or like you need to drink more alcohol to get the desired effect that having just a couple of drinks used to give you.

Not everyone who engages in heavy drinking has an alcohol use disorder or a chemical dependence on alcohol. However, most people who are suffering from an alcohol use disorder or AUD are heavy drinkers and show signs of binge drinking behavior.

If you or someone you love is a heavy drinker, you are not alone. In fact, according to the United Health Foundation, in 2020, 18.4% of adults in New Hampshire reported heavy drinking and binge drinking behavior. This was slightly higher than the national average for that year, which was 17.6%.

While most people who are heavy drinkers are not addicted to alcohol, it is important to be able to identify potentially unhealthy drinking behaviors in yourself and your loved ones.

What Is Heavy Drinking?

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, heavy alcohol use is defined as more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week for women, and more than four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week for men.

When talking about heavy drinking, it is also important to understand binge drinking. Consuming four or more drinks in less than two hours for women and five or more drinks in less than two hours for men is considered binge drinking. This is typically the amount of alcohol required to put a person’s blood alcohol concentration or BAC at 0.08% or higher, which is the legal driving limit in the U.S. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy drinking as binge drinking on five or more days in a given month.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most people who are heavy drinkers do not have alcohol use disorder or AUD. However, most people with AUD are heavy drinkers and show binge drinking behaviors.

What Are the Signs of Heavy Drinking That Could Lead to AUD?

Many people who are heavy drinkers are not dealing with AUD. However, there are some warning signs that heavy drinking is developing into an addiction.

These warning signs include:

  • Drinking more than you intended and/or spending more time drinking than you intended
  • Telling yourself you are going to drink less and then failing to do so
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking
  • Having cravings or a strong urge to drink alcohol
  • Engaging in reckless behavior when you drink
    • This might include having unprotected sex, driving while intoxicated, going swimming, or wandering alone in a dangerous neighborhood
  • Discovering that drinking or recovering from drinking often interferes with your ability to fulfill duties at home, school, or work
  • Continuing to drink even after it causes issues with friends, family, or other loved ones
  • Quitting or cutting back on activities you used to enjoy so that you can spend more time drinking
  • Continuing to drink even after it makes you feel depressed or anxious or causes other health problems
  • Having to drink more than you used to in order to get the desired effect
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking, like nausea, sweating, restlessness, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, or depression

These can be tell-tale signs of an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. The more of these symptoms that you have had, the more likely it is that you have a physical dependence and will need to go through supervised detox.

How to Tell the Difference Between Casual Drinking and Alcohol Use Disorder

Sometimes it is difficult to tell the difference between someone who is a heavy but relatively casual drinker and someone who is suffering from an alcohol use disorder. However, people who are just casual drinkers do not usually show the above-mentioned warning signs of an alcohol use disorder.

Casual drinkers also tend to drink in social settings, with a meal, or when trying to wind down. Casual drinkers can stop drinking when they want to and do not have a physical dependence on alcohol.

Here are a few drinking behaviors that are not typically displayed by casual drinkers but are often present in people suffering from AUD:

  • Only drinks to get drunk
  • Hides or tries to hide the extent of their drinking from their loved ones
  • Drinks instead of fulfilling duties or responsibilities
  • Turns to alcohol when they face a new or unexpected hardship
  • Repeats destructive patterns revolving around drinking
  • Breaks promises to themselves and others regularly about how much they will drink

What Are the Short-Term Effects of Heavy Drinking?

In the short term, heavy drinking often results in binge drinking, especially when you are consuming your daily drinks in one sitting. Binge drinking in and of itself does not mean that someone is suffering from AUD, but if you binge drink regularly when you drink alcohol, you may be at risk for AUD. Binge drinking can be dangerous as the side effects can cause harm, and people are less aware of their surroundings, which often puts them in dangerous situations.

What Is Considered Heavy Drinking?

The short-term effects of binge drinking include:

  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Dehydration
  • Upset stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Head pain
  • Loss of inhibitions (self-restraint)
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Blackouts (lost time or memory)
  • Poor coordination
  • Slurring of words
  • Inability to think clearly
  • Temporary changes in hearing and vision
  • Symptoms of severe alcohol poisoning like loss of consciousness (passing out), coma, or even death

Binge drinking can be very dangerous. If you often drink with friends, it may be worth talking to them about your drinking behavior and what they notice when you all go out to drink. If you binge drink often, they may be left feeling like they need to babysit you every time you go out.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Heavy Drinking?

While most people who are casual drinkers will not experience any serious health effects due to their drinking, the long-term effects of heavy drinking and alcohol misuse can be very serious. Someone suffering from AUD is likely to develop some of the following health issues and will likely continue to drink despite the harm it causes unless they receive help.

The long-term effects of heavy drinking include:

  • Increased likelihood of developing AUD
  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in weight
  • A lack of vitamin B1, which can lead to what’s known as alcohol-induced dementia
  • Brain damage resulting in poor reasoning and decision-making skills
  • Memory problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Pancreatitis
  • Stroke
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Liver cancer
  • Cirrhosis of the liver (scarring on the liver)
  • Throat cancer
  • Mouth cancer
  • Gastritis (inflamed stomach lining)
  • Ulcer
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Sexual performance issues
  • Malnutrition

Treatment at Addiction Recovery Services

Here at Addiction Recovery Services, we offer high-quality alcohol addiction treatment. We believe in harm reduction, not perfection or punishment. At ARS, we see you as a unique individual, not just another client. We believe in understanding the ways that your experience is unique to you and what your individual needs are.

Medication-Assisted Treatment

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an important part of recovery from AUD. MAT works to combat the uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal.

Some people in the recovery community discourage the use of MAT because they believe that it is simply “replacing one addiction with another,” but this is not true. MAT just gets rid of the harsh side effects of alcohol withdrawal, which makes a client’s recovery safer and faster. When we remove the painful and dangerous part of withdrawal, people can start working on the root causes of the addiction sooner.

The medications used in MAT for AUD include:

  • Naltrexone (Vivitrol and ReVia)
  • Acamprosate (Campral)
  • Disulfiram (Antabuse)

Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP)

At ARS, we provide a top-of-the-line intensive outpatient program or IOP.
Our IOP program is made up of:

  • Three hours of group therapy and education four days a week
  • Five initial weeks of treatment
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
  • Weekly consultations with an addiction psychiatrist or psychiatric nurse practitioner
  • The ability to extend treatment beyond five weeks as necessary

Our IOP is usually a good option for:

  • People returning from an inpatient detox or residential program
  • People who wish to continue working and living at home while in treatment
  • People who are seeking help for the first time or are uncertain of the amount of help they might need
  • People with untreated mental health symptoms contributing to their alcohol use

Find Treatment Today at Addiction Recovery Services

Are you afraid that your heavy drinking may have developed into AUD? If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol use, getting the necessary treatment is a top priority. Call us today at (978) 228-5853.

Alcohol Treatment Center in New Hampshire


What is considered heavy drinking per day?

Heavy drinking is considered to be more than four drinks a day for men and more than three drinks a day for women, according to the NIAAA.

How much do alcoholics drink a day?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is different for everyone, so some people who are suffering from AUD may drink more than others. The NIAAA defines heavy drinking as having more than four drinks a day for men and more than three a day for women. While heavy drinkers are not necessarily suffering from AUD, they are at a much higher risk of developing AUD.

Is one drink a day heavy drinking?

Having one drink a day is not considered heavy drinking. According to the NIAAA, heavy drinking is considered to be more than four drinks a day or more than 14 drinks a week for men, and more than three drinks a day or more than seven drinks a week for women.