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From wine to beer to distilled liquor, alcohol flows throughout our society. In fact, alcoholic beverages are the basis of a more than $400-billion industry in the U.S. Despite alcohol’s overall social acceptance, health consciousness is growing and many people are taking a closer look at their drinking habits.

How much is too much?
Each body is different, so it is difficult to say how much alcohol is “okay” and how much is a problem. Nevertheless, here are some helpful guidelines.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends alcohol only in moderation. The NIH defines moderate drinking for men as no more than 4 drinks per day, and no more than 14 drinks per week. For women, they suggest no more than 3 drinks per day and no more than 7 drinks per week. Keep in mind, however, that these are only guidelines. Some people, such as those who are underage, pregnant, plan to drive or operate machinery, taking medications that interact with alcohol or have a medical condition that is aggravated by alcohol, should avoid alcohol altogether.

Alcohol consumption above moderate levels may put you at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder. The most serious disorder is alcoholism, and it is characterized by a strong urge to drink, not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started, experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as shakiness and nausea when you do stop drinking, or needing to drink greater amounts of alcohol in order to get the same effect.

Alcohol Withdrawal
Ironically, quitting alcohol may pose its own health threat for heavy drinkers. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome refers to the symptoms that occur when a person who drinks heavily and/or frequently stops or reduces the amount of alcohol they consume. Signs of withdrawal can occur within a few hours to several days of the person’s last drink, and can vary from mild to life-threatening.

Mild symptoms of withdrawal can occur between 6 hours to 7 days of the person’s last drink, and can include sweating, tremors, agitation and trouble sleeping. More serious symptoms require emergency medical treatment. These symptoms include hallucinations (seeing or hearing things or experiencing sensations like crawling skin), heart palpitations and seizures.

How to Quit Safely
If drinking is becoming a problem and interfering with your daily life, it is extremely important that you consult with your primary healthcare provider for help. Your doctor can assist you in many ways, including recommending treatment programs, determining your need for nutritional supplements and prescribing medications that can assist with withdrawal symptoms. In severe cases, inpatient care (possibly in an ICU setting) may be necessary to provide a safe environment, close monitoring and administration of intravenous fluids to correct nutritional and electrolyte deficiencies.

It is also important to establish a social support system, and you may benefit from ongoing counseling sessions, an alcohol treatment specialist and/or local support programs like Alcoholics Anonymous.

If you are concerned about your drinking, please have an honest conversation with your doctor regarding how often and how much you drink. For additional resources, visit http://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/

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