Alcohol Terms Explained


Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading “actual” cause of death in the United States and was responsible for 75,000 deaths and 2.3 million years of potential life lost (about 30 years of life lost per death) in 2001.

Approximately 30% of current drinkers in the United States drink excessively. Excessive drinking refers to per-occasion consumption or average consumption of alcohol that puts individuals at increased risk for alcohol-related health and social problems. Excessive drinking is associated with a wide range of serious problems such as liver cirrhosis, gastrointestinal cancers, hemorrhagic stroke, heart failure, motor vehicle crashes, interpersonal violence, sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and a variety of neurological problems including fetal alcohol syndrome. Approximately 10% to 15% of excessive drinkers are alcohol-dependent.

The Standard Measure of Alcohol

In the United States, a standard drink has about half an ounce (13.7 grams or 1.2 tablespoons) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in:

  • 12 ounces of regular beer or wine cooler
  • 8 ounces of malt liquor
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits or “liquor” (gin, rum, vodka, whiskey)

Levels and Patterns of Drinking

  • Heavy drinking
    • For women, more than 1 drink per day on average.
    • For men, more than 2 drinks per day on average.
  • Binge drinking
    • For women, 4 or more drinks during a single occasion.
    • For men, 5 or more drinks during a single occasion.

Excessive drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking or both.

Alcohol Abuse

Alcohol abuse is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one’s health, interpersonal relationships or ability to work. Manifestations of alcohol abuse include:

  • Failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Drinking in dangerous situations, such as drinking while driving or operating machinery.
  • Legal problems related to alcohol, such as being arrested for drinking while driving or for physically hurting someone while drunk.
  • Continued drinking despite ongoing relationship problems that are caused or worsened by drinking.
  • Long-term alcohol abuse can turn into alcohol dependence

Alcohol Dependence

Dependency on alcohol, also known as alcohol addiction and alcoholism, is a chronic disease. The signs and symptoms of alcohol dependence include:

  • A strong craving for alcohol.
  • Continued use despite repeated physical, psychological, or interpersonal problems.
  • The inability to limit drinking.
  • Physical illness when one stops drinking.
  • The need to drink increasing amounts to feel its effects.
Source: Centers for Disease Control, Neighborhood Link
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