Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

When Does Drinking Become a Problem?

Although everyone is different, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, part of the National Institutes of Health, recommends that men should not have more than two drinks a day and women only one. Do you have a health problem? Are you taking certain medicines? You may need to drink less or not drink at all. Talk with your doctor.

Some people have been heavy drinkers for many years. But, over time, the same amount of alcohol packs a more powerful punch. Other people develop a drinking problem later in life. Sometimes this is a result of major life changes like death of dear friends or a loved one, moving to a new home, or failing health. These kinds of changes can cause loneliness, boredom, anxiety, or depression. In fact, depression in older adults often goes along with drinking too much.

One drink is equal to one of the following:

  • One 12-ounce can or bottle of regular beer, ale, or wine cooler

  • One 8- or 9-ounce can or bottle of malt liquor

  • One 5-ounce glass of red or white wine

  • One 1.5-ounce shot glass of distilled spirits like gin, rum, tequila, vodka, or whiskey. The label on the bottle will say 80 proof or less.

It is helpful to understand the "standard" drink sizes in order to follow health guidelines. However, it also is important to keep in mind that drinks may be stronger than you think they are if the actual serving sizes are larger than the standard sizes. In addition, drinks within the same beverage category, such as beer, can contain different percentages of alcohol.

Not everyone who drinks daily has a drinking problem. And, not all problem drinkers have to drink every day. You might want to get help if you, or a loved one, hides or lies about drinking, has more than seven drinks a week or more than two drinks in one day, or gets hurt or harms others when drinking.

There May Be Reasons to Stop Drinking

There may be many reasons to stop drinking. Check off any reasons that sound true for you.

I would like to quit drinking because:

  • I want to be healthy by keeping my high blood sugar (diabetes) under control.
  • I want to lower my blood pressure.
  • I want to keep my liver working right.
  • I don't want to hurt anyone by driving after I've been drinking.
  • I don't want to fall and hurt myself.
  • I'm tired of feeling sleepy or sick the morning after I drink.
  • I want to enjoy the things I used to do.
  • I want to stop feeling embarrassed about how I act when drinking.
  • List other reasons here: _______________________________________

Some people can cut back on their drinking. Some people need to stop drinking altogether. Making a change in your drinking habits can be hard. Don't give up! If you do not reach your goal the first time, try again. Ask your family and friends for help. Talk to your doctor if you are having trouble quitting. Get the help you need.

Read about this topic in Spanish. Lea sobre este tema en español.

For More Information About Alcohol Abuse and Help

Alcoholics Anonymous

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism                                                                         
National Institutes of Health

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
800-487-4889 (TTY)

This content is provided by the NIH National Institute on Aging (NIA). NIA scientists and other experts review this content to ensure it is accurate and up to date.