Alcohol dependence (alcoholism) and alcohol abuse are two different forms of problem drinking. Alcohol dependence occurs when a person shows signs of physical addiction to alcohol and continues to drink, despite problems with physical health, behavioral health, and social, family, or job responsibilities. Alcohol dominates the person's life and relationships. In alcohol abuse, a person's drinking leads to problems, but not physical addiction.
There is no known cause of alcohol abuse or alcoholism. The reason why some people drink in a responsible manner and never lose control of their lives while others are unable to control their drinking is not clear.
Some people are able to gain control over their alcohol abuse before it progresses to dependence, while others are not. No one knows which heavy drinkers will be able to regain control and which will not, but the amount of alcohol one drinks can influence the likelihood of becoming dependent.
Those at risk for developing alcoholism include:
• Men who have 15 or more drinks a week
• Women who have 12 or more drinks a week
• Anyone who has five or more drinks per occasion at least once a week
The Department of Health and Ageing defines a standard drink as any drink containing 10 grams of alcohol. One standard drink always contains the same amount of alcohol regardless of the container size or whether it is a beer, wine, or spirit.
A standard drink is a unit of measurement. In the same way one meter measures a particular distance traveled, one standard drink measures a particular amount of alcohol consumed.
The standard drink is a much more reliable measure of how much alcohol is consumed compared to counting glasses, bottles, or cans because counting glasses, bottles, or cans of alcohol can be misleading because as can contain varying amounts of alcohol.
The consumption limits in the Australian Alcohol Guidelines are based on the standard drink concept and the number of standard drinks in alcohol beverages is always shown on the label of the container. Ask bar or restaurant staff to help in identifying how many standard drinks are in glasses, jugs, and other containers that are not labeled. Restaurants and bars do not all have the same size glasses, so the number of standard drinks can vary from one venue to the next.
The formula for calculating standard drinks is:
Volume of container in liters X % alcohol by volume (ml/100ml) X 0.789* = The # of standard drinks
*The specific gravity of ethyl alcohol is 0.789
For example one stubbie (375ml) of full strength beer (5% alcohol by volume) is calculated as:
0.375 X 5 X 0.789* = 1.5
The main reason people count their drinks, using standard drinks, is to ensure that the low risk levels set out in the Australian Alcohol Guidelines are not exceeded. The low risk levels define the number of standard drinks that can be drunk before the threat to a person's health and social well-being moves up into the 'risky' or 'high risk' category.
Counting standard drinks is simply a matter of adding numbers. For example if a person has one nip of spirits and two average (150ml) restaurant glasses of wine, they would have consumed 4 standard drinks (1 + 1.5 + 1.5).
Beer Full strength 4.8% alc. vol - 375 ml bottle or can - 1.4 standard drinks
Mid strength 3.5% alc. vol - 375 ml bottle or can - 1 standard drink
Low strength 2.7% alc. vol - 375 ml bottle or can - 0.8 standard drinks
Red wine 13% alc. vol 150 ml average restaurant serving - 1.5 standard drinks
750 ml bottle - 7.7 standard drinks
White wine 11.5% alc. vol 150 ml average restaurant serving - 1.4 standard drinks
750 ml bottle - 6.8 standard drinks
Champagne 12% alc. vol 150 ml average restaurant serving - 1.4 standard drinks
750 ml bottle - 7.1 standard drinks
Port 17.5% alc. vol 60ml standard serve - 0.8 standard drinks
Spirits High strength 40% alc. vol
30 ml nip - 1 standard drink
Full strength ready-to-drink 5% alc. vol 275 ml bottle = 1.1 standard drinks
330ml bottle - 1.2 standard drinks
660 ml bottle - 2.6 standard drinks
High strength ready-to-drink 7% alc. vol 275 ml bottle - 1.5 standard drinks
330 ml bottle - 1.8 standard drinks
660 ml bottle - 3.6 standard drinks
Full strength pre-mix spirits 5% alc. vol 250 ml can - 1 standard drink
300 ml can - 1.2 standard drinks
375 ml can - 1.5 standard drinks
440 ml can - 1.7 standard drinks
High strength pre-mix spirits 7% - 10% alc. vol 250 ml can - 1.4 - 1.9 standard drinks
High strength pre-mix spirits 7% alc. vol 300 ml can - 1.6 standard drinks
375 ml can - 2.1 standard drinks
440 ml can - 2.4 standard drinks
Some people put a bottle cap or a coaster in their pockets to represent every drink they have. This is not as accurate as counting standard drinks — but it is better than not counting. When counting standard drinks, people should be aware of bar staff or others topping up glasses or where the amount of alcohol is not known such as in mixed drinks, cocktails or punch.
Other Risk Factors Several other risk factors for alcohol abuse and dependence have been identified. For example, a person who has an alcoholic parent is more likely to become an alcoholic than a person without alcoholism in the immediate family. Other people who may be more likely to abuse alcohol or become dependent include those who:
• Are under peer pressure, especially teens and college-aged students
• Have depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia
• Have easy access to alcohol
• Have low self-esteem or problems with relationships
• Live a stressful lifestyle
• Live in a culture where there is high social acceptance of alcohol use
Research suggests that certain genes may increase the risk of alcoholism, but which genes and how they work are not known.
The prevalence of alcohol intake and related problems is rising. Data indicate that about 15% of people in Australia are problem drinkers, and about 5% to 10% of male drinkers and 3% to 5% of female drinkers could be diagnosed as alcohol dependent.
Prevention Educational programs and medical advice about alcohol abuse can help decrease alcohol abuse and its problems. However, alcohol dependence needs more intensive management.
When to Contact a Medical Professional If you or someone you know has alcohol dependence and develops severe confusion, seizures, bleeding, or other health problems, go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number such as 000.