It depends, but the most recent National Drug Strategy Household Survey shows 1 in 5 Australians drink alcohol at a level that puts them at risk of harm or injury over their lifetime.
It also shows men are far more likely than women to drink in risky quantities, with 18-29-year-old males the riskiest consumers of all.
So how much alcohol means you’re overdoing it? For men, binge drinking means having five or more drinks in a short period of time. Most people who binge drink don’t fit the definition of an alcoholic, but there aren’t just two camps of drinkers, say experts: many of us are somewhere in between.
To find out where you fall on the problem-drinking spectrum, read on for these surprising signs you may be drinking too much.
You become a daredevil
Anyone who’s seen their normally shy co-worker dancing on the bar at the company party knows drinking can lower inhibitions. Getting drunk can come with repercussions far worse than feeling embarrassed – it can lead to risky decisions.
“Drinking too much on just one occasion can change your life for the worse,” says addiction specialist Dr Gregory A. Smith.
Alcohol is also a factor in approximately 60 per cent of fatal burn injuries and drownings, 40 per cent of fatal falls and car accidents, and half of all sexual assaults, according to the US's National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).
You’re a weekend warrior
If you don’t drink daily but are drinking regularly, such as every Friday night, that’s a red flag, says Smith.
While research shows that having about seven alcoholic beverages per week lowers your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, abstaining all week only to guzzle five or six glasses in a single sitting negates any of alcohol’s potential health benefits.
Moreover, binge drinking can raise blood pressure and interfere with certain medications.
Drinking just “creeps up on you”
Have you ever told yourself you were going to have only a drink or two at happy hour, and before you knew it you’d downed four?
One of the clues that you may be a binge drinker is not knowing your limits – or feeling surprised when you’ve “suddenly” passed them.
Like diabetes, heart disease and other health problems, drinking problems develop gradually. That’s why it’s smart to reevaluate your drinking habits regularly by writing down how much you drink and when. That will make it easier to rein yourself in if you’re starting to get a little out of control.
Your memory has temporarily gone missing
Alcohol affects everyone differently, depending on your genes, what, if any, medications you’re taking, as well as whether you just ate a big meal (food slows the absorption of alcohol in your bloodstream).
Still, researchers speculate that heavy drinking interferes with how you remember by disrupting a key brain messenger called glutamate, which is linked to memory.
That means if you have ever “forgotten” parts of the night until your drinking buddies reminded you, or have woken up foggy as to how you got home and into bed, you’ve definitely had one (or three) too many.
You let some responsibilities slide
“Drinking is a problem when you notice that you’ve started to neglect things that are important to you for the sake of alcohol,” says health care expert Keith Humphreys.
Maybe you’re normally a dedicated parent, but a Saturday night buzz means you have trouble putting the kids to bed. Or you skip your Monday morning workout because you feel hung over from the weekend.
When drinking is prioritised over your normal day-to-day life, you’re probably in the danger zone.
People close to you seem concerned
If your family, friends or co-workers have hinted (or flat-out vocalised) that they’re worried about you, it’s time to cut back.
“The first step is to recognise that you’re drinking more than you should, and then to set some goals for yourself,” says Dr Deidra Roach, from the NIAAA.
Tell your partner or friend what your drinking limit is going to be before you go to an event where alcohol is free flowing. This makes it easier to say no to the next drink, because you’re being held accountable by someone else.
“And if you’re afraid to ask people if you drink too much, that’s probably a sign that you’re overdoing it, too,” says Humphreys.
Is alcohol a problem? If it’s harming you, or someone you know, it may be time to seek advice from a professional.
You can speak to your GP, local health service or call/chat online with one of the services below:
Alcohol Drug Information Service (ADIS): 1800 250 015 (24 hours/day, 7 days/week) – ADIS webchat is available Monday to Friday 8.30am – 5pm (including public holidays).
Alcoholics Anonymous: 1300 222 222 (24 hours/day, 7 days/week)