Whether you're a college student prone to binge-drinking or a professional who regularly drinks a glass of wine with dinner, specialists are encouraging drinkers of all kinds to pause and consider whether their imbibing could be a precursor to alcoholism.
The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism launched a new Web site dubbed "Rethinking Drinking" to help Americans gauge whether their boozing could lead to trouble.
"The goal of the site is to provide information to people and to help them identify if they're drinking too much," said Dr. Mark Willenbring, the director of treatment and recovery research at the NIAAA, which is part of the National Institute of Health.
"The idea is to identify the problems at an earlier stage and change them before they develop more severe problems," said Willenbring.
Using fact sheets and interactive tools, such as a drink calculator and a survey that tells users how their drinking habits compare with their peers, Willenbring hopes the site will alert drinkers to the risks of over-indulging.
In any given year, about 30 percent of U.S. adults ages 18 and up will drink an excess of the maximum recommended daily alcohol limits, but only 4 percent of those are considered to be alcoholics, according to Willenbring.
Women should have no more than three standard drinks in a day or seven in a week, and a man should have no more than four in one day or 14 in a week, according to the site.
For those who exceed these limits, Willenbring said that one in four already suffers from alcoholism or alcohol abuse and the remainder are at an increased risk for these and other problems.
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"Most people don't know when they're drinking at a risk level," he said. "When most people think of someone who has a drinking problem, they think of an individual whose life is falling apart, but that only really occurs with the most severe alcoholics."
Willenbring likens the new NIAAA Web site to many weight loss plans. "Rethinking Drinking" encourages users to change their drinking habits to avoid medical complications in the future, just like many diets advise altering your eating patterns to prevent conditions such as heart disease later in life, he said.
"When someone has high cholesterol, we want to get it down to reduce their risk of having a heart attack in the future," said Willenbring. "This is the same thing -- we're reducing people's risk for developing future problems like liver disease and alcoholic dependency by encouraging them to monitor their drinking habits early on."
Many drinkers who take the online surveys will be surprised to find that they are actually drinking more than what is medically advised, said Willenbring, who adds that most people have a misunderstanding of what constitutes one standard drink.
"Heavy drinkers will absolutely be surprised at what they find," he said. "I don't think people have any idea about serving sizes."
One standard drink, according to the NIAAA, is any drink that contains about 0.6 fluid ounces of "pure" alcohol, such as 12 fluid ounces of beer, 5 fluid ounces of table wine or a shot glass of hard liquor.