One in Five Men is at Risk of a Drinking Problem

In the United States, approximately 18 million people have an alcohol-use disorder. Drinking problems have been associated around the world with depression, severe anxiety, insomnia, substance abuse, suicide, and an increased risks of many health other serious problems. While alcoholism affects men and women alike, studies suggest men have a higher risk than women.

In a study conducted earlier this year, Marc Schuckit of the Veterans Affairs San Diego Healthcare System and the University of California, found that men in developed countries have a 15 percent lifetime risk for abusing alcohol and a 10 percent risk for becoming dependent on alcohol. In contrast, the lifetime risk for women to become dependent on alcohol was between eight to 10 percent.

"Some 40 to 60 percent of the risk of problem drinking can be explained by genes, and the rest by environmental factors," said Schuckit. "More women than men are lifelong abstainers. A higher proportion of women than men never open themselves to the possibility of alcoholism because they never or very rarely drink."

The Risks of Alcohol Abuse

Heavy alcohol use affects the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and immune systems and can raise the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, liver cirrhosis, and many cancers. Additionally, it can cause mild anterograde amnesias, temporary cognitive deficits, and sleep disorders.

According to the National Institutes of Health, alcohol is a factor in approximately 60 percent of fatal burn injuries, drownings, and homicides; 50 percent of severe trauma injuries and sexual assaults; and 40 percent of fatal motor vehicle crashes, suicides, and fatal falls.

Treatment research shows that early intervention in primary care can be effective in treating drinking problems. The important thing is to get help early on.

Here are some factors to help you identify if you or someone you care about has a drinking problem.

Symptoms of an alcohol-use disorder (from the National Institutes of Health):

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more or longer than you intended.
  • More than once you tried to cut down on or stop drinking, but couldn't.
  • Have to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want. Or found that your usual number of drinks had less effect than before.
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious.
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family and friends.
  • Found that drinking-or being sick from drinking-often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink.
  • More than once gotten arrested, been held at a police station, or had other legal problems because of your drinking.
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, restlessness, nausea, sweating, a racing heart, or a seizure. Or sensed things that were not there.

Important note: If you see these symptoms in yourself or someone you care about, contact your doctor immediately. Primary care and mental health practitioners can provide effective treatment for alcohol-use disorders. The sooner you seek help, the better.


Beck, M. To Your Health: New Website Helps Predict Alcohol Problem. Wall Street Journal. March 10, 2009.

Rethinking Drinking. National Institutes of Health. Website:

Schuckit, M.A. Alcohol-Use Disorders. The Lancet. Volume 373, Issue 9662, Pages 492 - 501, 7 February 2009.

Steenhuysen, J. One in Five Men at Risk of Drinking Problem. Reuters. January 25, 2009.