The conventional wisdom used to be that alcoholics had to hit bottom before they got better. But it can be a long, slow way down. A new government Web site called 'Rethinking Drinking' aims to help people recognize problem patterns earlier and catch themselves before they fall.
'Most people don't know what 'drink responsibly' means -- they think it means not getting tanked,' says Mark Willenbring, director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 'But there are levels of drinking that raise your risk for alcohol problems just like high cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease.'
Behind the NIAAA's effort is a new understanding that there is a spectrum of alcohol-use disorders, which some experts hope will replace the current criteria for 'abuse' and 'dependence.' The old definitions were based on observing addicts in treatment. Several large studies of drinking in the general population show that some patterns clearly pave the way for future problems.
The NIAAA say you are at 'low-risk' for serious problems if you consume no more than four standard-size alcoholic drinks a day for a man or no more than three for a woman. That may sound like a lot, but you can't drink like that every day. The weekly 'low-risk' limit is no more than 14 drinks for a man or seven for a woman. Drinking more daily, or weekly or both carries higher risk of abuse or dependence.
At www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov, you can plug in your average consumption and see how you compare with the general population and problem drinkers. Since this is anonymous, you can try different amounts and see what they mean.
Some 37% of Americans always stay within the daily and weekly limits, according to the site. Only two in 100 of them progress to serious alcohol problems.
But 19% of Americans exceed either the daily or weekly levels; one in 12 of those people has already progressed to alcohol abuse or alcoholism. About 9% of Americans exceeds both the weekly and daily limits; half of them have alcohol problems.
About 35% of Americans don't drink at all. 'That can be a real eye-opener for people who drink heavily and surround themselves with other people who drink a lot,' says Ann Bradley, an NIAAA spokeswoman.
Even 'low-risk' drinking can be risky for people with bipolar disorder, liver disease, abnormal heart rhythm and chronic pain, the Web site notes. It also links to a list of dozens of medications that can react adversely with alcohol, including drugs for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, pain and depression.
Knowing the size and strength of a 'standard' drink is critical, so the site has a size chart and a content calculator. Some cocktails contain as much alcohol as three standard drinks. A wine bottle usually holds five 5-oz. glasses.
'Rethinking Drinking' leaves it up to you whether and when to change your habits. One section discusses the merits of cutting down versus quitting completely. Another lists pros and cons to consider -- including 'I'd need another way to wind down.'
The site also lists strategies for changing drinking habits, from 'space and pace' (no more than one per hour) to 'avoiding triggers' (recognizing external situations and internal emotions that tempt you to drink). An 'urge tracker' lets you record times when you wanted a drink and why, what you did and what you might have done differently. A section on 'refusal skills' helps you plan ahead for social situations.
Dr. Willenbring hopes the site, and a downloadable print version, help doctors, clergy and others who counsel people concerned about their habits. Awareness already seems to be rising, says Eileen Travis, director of a New York City Bar Association program to assist lawyers with substance abuse. 'We get calls all the time from people who say they think they have a problem and want to stop before it gets bad -- many more than in the past.'
Studies show that just five minutes of discussion with a primary-care doctor can reduce heavy drinking by 25%. Exploring online all by yourself might be just as useful.
美国国家酒精滥用与酒精中毒研究所(National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, NIAAA)治疗与康复研究小组主任马克·韦兰博凌（Mark Willenbring）说“多数人都不知道何谓‘负责任饮酒’──他们认为就是不要酗酒。其实，饮酒多寡都会增加酒精造成的危险，就像高胆固醇会增加罹患心脏病的风险一样。”
网站还列举了改变饮酒习惯的策略，从“步步为营”（每小时饮酒量不超过一个标准饮量）到“远离诱因”（找出诱使你饮酒的外部条件及内心情感）。在“追根溯源系统”(urge tracker)中，可以记录下自己想要喝酒的时间、原因、当时采取的行动，以及你当时还可采取的其他行动。“拒饮技巧”(refusal skills)专栏则教你如何为各种社交场合提前作准备。