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What is Considered Alcohol Misuse?

Alcohol misuse is a dangerous activity that can lead to problematic results. Some individuals only participate in mild misuse of alcohol, but this can still lead to other issues in the long run. The definition of alcohol misuse can help you understand what types of behaviors are considered to fall under this category and how dangerous they may potentially be.

Alcohol Misuse vs. Alcohol Abuse

alcohol abuse

Learn about the difference between alcohol misuse and abuse.

Understanding the difference between the terms alcohol misuse and alcohol abuse can allow you to be much more discerning in your drinking and any behavior you choose to exhibit as a result. Often, these two terms are used interchangeably, but it is important to understand the difference between them.

  • Alcohol misuse is a generally milder term and reflects drinking that may not be particularly recommended by the healthcare community. While this can lead to dangerous consequences, alcohol misuse is generally common and not as harsh a term as alcohol abuse.
  • Alcohol abuse, while also common, is much more dangerous and considered to be reflective of more problematic behavior. It is defined by the kind of actions that may eventually lead to the development of an alcohol use disorder (AUD) such as dependence or alcoholism.

By understanding the difference between these two terms, it is easier to define the actions that are considered to fall under the category of alcohol misuse and why there is a need for two separate terms in the first place. Often, some individuals favor the former term because it seems less judgmental, but there can be a time and a place where each term is appropriate to use.

Drinking in Moderation

According to the NLM, “If you drink alcohol it is best to do so in moderation.” Drinking in this way can actually have certain health benefits, which may sometimes outweigh the negatives associated with drinking. As stated by Harvard School of Public Health, “More than 100 prospective studies show an inverse association between moderate drinking and risk of heart attack, ischemic (clot-caused) stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes.” These benefits, of course, only occur and outweigh any negatives when a person drinks in moderation.

Alcohol use in moderation is often called responsible drinking. “Moderation means the drinking is not getting you intoxicated (or drunk) and you are drinking no more than 1 drink per day if you are a woman and no more than 2 if you are a man” (NLM). It should be noted that a drink refers to

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1 ½ ounces of liquor

Whenever the use of alcohol goes beyond these stipulations, it can be considered misuse.

Defining Behaviors as Misuse of Alcohol

General behaviors that can be considered misuse of alcohol include:

  • Having one or more drinks than the specified limit for your gender in a day
  • Having more drinks over the course of a week, month, etc. than the specified limit for your gender
  • Drinking with the intention of getting drunk
  • Drinking past a safe limit
  • Drinking to forget something or to make life seem more fun, glamorous, etc.
  • Drinking in a place or a way that is somehow unsafe or possibly even dangerous

Generally, it would come as a surprise to many individuals that these behaviors are considered misuse of alcohol because most people who commonly drink will, at one point or another, engage in one of these behaviors. However, it is important to understand the intended purpose of drinking is not to become extremely inebriated, forget a bad day, make life seem more exotic, or any of the reasons listed above. There is a specific amount for each type of alcoholic beverage that constitutes a drink for a reason: so that the substance can be consumed safely and without misuse. Still, many people misuse alcohol every day.

Drinking alcohol in moderation does have health benefits, and that is why there is a specified amount that constitutes this behavior. Going outside of that amount (or drinking for a reason other than for health benefits) is actually considered to be a misuse of the substance.

The Key: Avoiding Abuse and AUDs

However, it is important to remember that the real key to safe alcohol consumption is to do your best to avoid abusing the substance. There is a likelihood that most individuals will step outside the lines of moderate use into misuse from time to time; still, this is very different than the act of abusing alcohol.

According to the NIAAA, “While drinking alcohol itself is not necessarily a problem–drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase your risk for a variety of problems.” This is why you should do as much as possible to avoid the actions of alcohol abuse, which may include:

  • Drinking more than the recommended amount regularly and often
  • Drinking to excess regularly and often (binge drinking)
  • Drinking to forget, to increase happiness or life satisfaction, or otherwise using it to feel good too much of the time
  • Drinking to the detriment of your health
  • Avoiding responsibilities in order to drink
  • Drinking even though friends and family members have asked you to stop
  • Acting irrationally as the result of drinking too much (driving while intoxicated, etc.)

If you begin to notice yourself exhibiting actions like the ones listed above, you are abusing alcohol consistently and may need help. These kinds of behaviors can easily lead to an AUD, and the more intense your disorder becomes, the more difficult it will be for you to stop. Avoiding these types of actions is key to good health and evading any alcohol-related disorders.

Compared to these actions, those associated with alcohol misuse may seem quite tame. It is also true that many individuals who drink regularly are likely to misuse the substance from time to time. However, doing your best not to fall into a pattern of alcohol misuse will help you better avoid the possibility of abuse and any eventual disorders associated with that abuse. If you try not to misuse alcohol, you will be less likely to abuse it and less likely to experience any of the substance’s more harmful effects.

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