Preventing Alcohol Abuse Disorders

How to Prevent Alcohol Abuse in Children, Teens & Adults

Preventing Alcohol Abuse Disorders

Drinking too much alcohol can take its toll on daily life, relationships, and work performance. While an occasional drink is acceptable, excessive drinking can lead to alcohol use disorders (AUD) such as dependence, alcohol abuse, and addiction. Fortunately, there are effective ways to prevent alcohol addiction. 

Preventing Excessive Alcohol Use

Most alcoholism prevention programs focus on opening an honest line of communication between friends and loved ones and avoiding risk factors for alcohol problems. This proactive approach to prevent alcohol use disorder works for underage drinkers and adults who are still in the early stages of alcoholism.

Individuals with a family history of alcohol-related substance abuse are four times more ly to develop alcohol addiction.

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Who Is At Risk Of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)? 

While alcohol addiction can affect anyone regardless of age or gender, certain factors increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol dependence. People who are at risk for alcohol problems include:

  • A family history of alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Those who belong to families, cultures, and sub-cultures where drinking is traditional or encouraged, such as college
  • Living in an environment with easy accessibility to alcoholic drinks
  • Unhealthy drinking patterns – drinking more than 12 to 15 drinks per week
  • Regular binge drinking – five or more drinks on one occasion
  • Mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression
  • Those with high-stress jobs or extreme pressure at work, people in the military
  • Adolescents and young adults in their with low self-esteem and high peer pressure
  • High levels of emotional stress – such as losing a loved one

Alcohol Use Statistics

Age is a strong motivating factor for the development of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol consumption usually begins when a person is in their late teens to early twenties and peaks once they are in their late to mid-twenties.1 

People in their late adulthood are more ly to develop alcoholism. However, teenagers who start drinking before age 15 are 5.7 times more ly to become an alcoholic by age 26.2 

Teenagers may also struggle with alcohol use disorder. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, there are about 414,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 with AUD.3

Individuals with a family history of alcohol addiction are four times more ly to develop alcohol addiction.

University of Rochester Medical Center

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Alcohol Addiction Prevention Begins with Teens and Young Adults

Adolescents and young adults make up the largest percentage of people with AUD. Of the five alcoholic subtype groups, the young adult and young antisocial subtypes account for over 52 percent of all alcoholics.

Adolescents and young adults have a higher risk of succumbing to peer pressure and developing addictive drinking behaviors.

Preventive methods and programs are essential in the prevention of alcoholism among teens and older adults. To accomplish this, alcohol and behavioral education should start at home. Parents and family members must take an active role in educating young teens on the risks of alcohol.

Young adults can also benefit from the support of friends and family. Although people who still have early alcoholism can learn skills to prevent addiction.

How to Prevent Alcoholism in Teenagers and Young Adults

Kids as young as 12 have reported drinking alcohol.2 If you’re a parent to a teen or young adult, or if you know someone in the family between the ages of 12 and 25, you can reduce their risk for alcohol disorder with the following tips.

Talk about Alcohol and its Risks with Children and Teens

It is good to have open and honest communication with children and teens about alcohol. While this may not be an easy conversation, building a strong parent-child relationship can make a difference. Talk with them about alcohol and what it does to their body. Share statistics and facts that highlight the risks of drinking alcohol at a young age. 

Set rules about alcohol and inform teens that drinking and excessive alcohol use has consequences. Educating children on the negative effects of alcohol before they become an adult is essential. Doing so may help reduce their risk of substance abuse.

Monitor Alcohol and Behaviors in the Home

In many cases, underage drinking starts at home. Research shows that active and regular involvement in a teen’s life can help reduce the risk of underage drinking and alcohol problems.

If you keep alcohol at home, monitor the supply, especially if you leave your teen and their friends unsupervised. Get to know their friends and their friends' parents and how they view alcohol and substance use. This makes it easier to monitor your teen’s activities and how to avoid possible peer pressure.

Teach Valuable Coping Methods for Stress

Many teens and young adults turn to alcohol as a way to reduce stress. Teaching them healthy coping skills can help them better handle stressful situations without the need for alcohol.

Preventing Alcohol Addiction as an Adult

As an adult, you are responsible for your actions. So if you want to prevent alcohol addiction, you should start with yourself. Whether you drink casually or have started to drink alcohol more frequently, you can take the following steps to sober up.

Know Your Drinking Limits

Don't set a drinking limit on your own. Instead, follow the guidelines set out by health care institutions and medical professionals. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) recommends the following drinking limits4:

  • Men: No more than 4 drinks per day and 14 drinks per week
  • Women: No more than 3 drinks per day and 7 drinks per week 

According to the NIAAA, only 2 100 people who drink within these limits go on to develop alcohol problems.4

Avoid Binge Drinking and Heavy Drinking

Binge drinking and heavy drinking are types of excessive alcohol consumption.

  • Binge drinking is when a person drinks consecutively, resulting in high blood alcohol levels of 0.08% and above. Usually, it takes 10 or more drinks for men, and 8 or more drinks for women, to reach these levels.5
  • Heavy drinking is when a person drinks beyond the recommended limits. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) further defines it as binge drinking on 5 or more days within 30 days.5

To prevent alcoholism, you should avoid drinking frequently and excessively.

Recognize Your Triggers

What specific causes trigger you to drink? Do you crave a drink after a stressful day at work? Do you drink more if you’re hanging out with certain friends or co-workers? Do you turn to alcohol when you are bored or lonely? Have you previously experienced trauma? Are you currently going through a stressful situation?

All of these are good questions to ask yourself. Knowing which emotions, actions, or people influence your drinking will help you better understand ways to reduce your alcohol consumption or avoid drinking altogether.

Prevent Alcohol Addiction by Avoiding Emotional Drinking

Emotional drinkers are people who turn to alcohol when they feel negative emotions such as sadness and anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s a bad habit that can lead to alcohol dependence.

Try to be more self-aware of your emotional state. If you have the urge to drink alcohol whenever you have negative feelings, consciously direct your thoughts and actions to healthier alternatives. For example, you can read a book or spend time on your hobbies instead of thinking about alcohol or drinking.

Tell Loved Ones Your Concerns

If you think your drinking is starting to become a problem, talk to your trusted friends or family about it. This will help you get rid of the shame and guilt you might feel. These negative emotions can give you an excuse to continue alcohol consumption. Talking about your problems will get rid of this burden, so you can focus on getting better.

Also, having the support of a close friend or family member will help you maintain sobriety. They can keep you in check and make sure that you're not drinking. 

Remove Alcohol from the Home

Having a cabinet full of liquor or a well-stocked beer fridge is nice if you have guests who are also drinkers. But on a daily basis, this increases your risk of alcohol abuse or dependency.

A good preventive measure is to replace the bottles of liquor or beer with other non-alcoholic beverages. Only stock up on alcohol just before a social gathering or when you’re expecting people to come over. Having no alcohol in your home decreases your chance of drinking.

Reduce Your Alcohol Intake

If you drink frequently or tend to be an excessive drinker at social gatherings, try alternating your drinks with food and other non-alcoholic beverages. 

For example, when out at the bar with co-workers, it isn’t necessary to spend all night drinking. Take the time to consume your alcoholic drink. 

As soon as you finish, you don’t have to get another. Instead, you can opt for a snack or juice. This keeps your blood alcohol levels low and helps you avoid binge drinking.

Create a Positive Social Network and Support Group

Create a  network of friends and family who share similar interests. Surround yourself with positive people and those that make you feel good about yourself. 

Exploring new hobbies, making new friends at social gatherings, and finding people that bring joy and add meaning to your life are great ways to reduce your alcohol consumption and help prevent alcohol addiction.

Surround Yourself with Non-Drinkers

Don't spend all of your free time with drinkers. Going out with co-workers to drink and then going out with friends to drink, will only put you at risk for alcohol problems.

Use most of your free time to hang out with tea-totallers (people who don't drink at all), or those who drink moderately. Stay away from people who drink excessive amounts of alcohol, such as binge drinkers.

Alcohol does not have to be the focal point when you're meeting with others. There are other ways you can spend time without the involvement of alcohol. For instance, you can play video games, watch movies, or have barbecues, among many other activities you can do together.

Know the Consequences of Alcohol Use

Knowing what alcohol does to your body can stop you from drinking too much or help you quit alcohol for good. Excessive drinking is associated with numerous risks to a person's physical and mental health, as well as their safety. 

Some short-term risks of alcohol use include:

  • Injury and accidents — such as falls and vehicular crashes
  • Violence and involvement in crime
  • Alcohol poisoning, which is a medical emergency
  • Risky sexual behaviors — engaging in unprotected sex, sex with multiple partners

Drinking excessively for a long time can lead to chronic health problems and cause other complications.

Below are the long-term risks of excessive drinking:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease or stroke
  • Liver disease
  • Digestive problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Alcoholic dementia
  • Mental health problems — depression and anxiety
  • Social consequences — such as relationship problems and losing a job
  • Financial decline and bankruptcy
  • Homelessness

How to Reduce Your Risk for Alcohol Addiction

Alcohol use disorder is best avoided if you catch the early signs of an alcohol problem. These signs include:

  • Drinking alone
  • Drinking at inappropriate times
  • Hiding alcohol or hiding when drinking
  • Neglecting personal hygiene
  • Missing school or work consistently
  • Becoming defensive when asked about drinking habits
  • Avoiding contact with friends or loved ones

If you know someone who exhibits these signs, or if you experience them yourself, you should start taking measures to reduce your alcohol consumption.

However, people who drink excessively for too long may develop alcohol use disorders. Signs include:

  • Drinking more to get the desired effects
  • Increasing dependence on alcohol to function
  • Struggling to refuse alcohol
  • Feeling a strong urge to drink
  • Hanging out more with heavy drinkers
  • Increasing lethargy or emotional problems
  • Mental health issues

Once a person reaches this stage, it’s best to seek medical advice. You should also consider evidence-based treatments such as alcohol rehab, behavioral therapy, and counseling.

Joining alcohol support groups Alcoholics Anonymous can also help you maintain sobriety during recovery. However, it should not be used as a substitute for professional help.

What's Next?


Preventing Excessive Alcohol Use

Preventing Alcohol Abuse Disorders

Excessive alcohol use is responsible for approximately 95,000 deaths in the United States each year1 and $249 billion in economic costs in 2010.2 Excessive alcohol use includes

  • Binge drinking (defined as consuming 4 or more alcoholic beverages per occasion for women or 5 or more drinks per occasion for men).
  • Heavy drinking (defined as consuming 8 or more alcoholic beverages per week for women or 15 or more alcoholic beverages per week for men).
  • Any drinking by pregnant women or those younger than age 21.

The strategies listed below can help communities create social and physical environments that discourage excessive alcohol consumption thereby, reducing alcohol-related fatalities, costs, and other harms.

The Community Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations

The Community Preventive Services Task Force, an independent, nonfederal, volunteer body of public health and prevention experts, recommends several evidence-based community strategies to reduce harmful alcohol use. Learn more about the Community Guide’s findingsExternalexternal icon.


  • Increasing Alcohol TaxesExternalexternal iconAlcohol taxes may include wholesale, excise, ad valorem, or sales taxes, all of which affect the price of alcohol. Taxes can be levied at the federal, state, or local level on beer, wine or distilled spirits.4
  • Dram Shop LiabilityExternalexternal iconDram shop liability, also known as commercial host liability, refers to laws that hold alcohol retail establishments liable for injuries or harms caused by illegal service to intoxicated or underage customers.5
  • Electronic Screening and Brief Intervention (e-SBI)Externalexternal icone-SBI uses electronic devices (e.g., computers, telephones, or mobile devices) to facilitate delivery of key elements of traditional screening and brief interventions. At a minimum, e-SBI involves screening individuals for excessive drinking, and delivering a brief intervention, which provides personalized feedback about the risks and consequences of excessive drinking.8

US Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) is an independent panel of non-Federal experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine and comprises primary care providers. The USPSTF conducts scientific evidence reviews of a broad range of clinical preventive health care services and develops recommendations for primary care clinicians and health systems.

How Can I Contribute to the Prevention of Excessive Alcohol Use?

Everyone can contribute to the prevention of excessive alcohol use.

You can

  • Choose not to drink too much yourself and help others not do it.
  • If you choose to drink alcohol, follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans on moderate alcohol consumption (no more than one drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men).12
  • Support effective community strategies to prevent excessive alcohol use, such as those recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task ForceExternalexternal icon.
  • Not serve or provide alcohol to those who should not be drinking, including people under the age of 21 or those who have already drank too much.
  • Talk with your healthcare provider about your drinking behavior and request counseling if you drink too much.

States and communities can:

  • Implement effective prevention strategies for excessive alcohol use, such as those recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task ForceExternalexternal icon.
  • Enforce existing laws and regulations about alcohol sales and service.
  • Develop community coalitions that build partnerships between schools, faith-based organizations, law enforcement, health care, and public health agencies to reduce excessive alcohol use.
  • Routinely monitor and report the prevalence, frequency, and intensity of binge drinking (whether or not adults binge drink, how often they do so, and how many drinks they have if they do).
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) Web site.
  2. Sacks JJ, Gonzales KR, Bouchery EE, Tomedi LE, Brewer RD. 2010 National and State Costs of Excessive Alcohol Consumptionexternal icon. Am J Prev Med 2015; 49(5):e73–e79.
  3. Campbell CA, Hahn RA, Elder R, Brewer R, Chattopadhyay S, Fielding J, et al. The effectiveness of limiting alcohol outlet density as a means of reducing excessive alcohol consumption and alcohol-related harmspdf iconexternal icon  [PDF-445KB]. Am J Prev Med. 2009;37(6):556–69.
  4. Elder RW, Lawrence B, Ferguson A, Naimi TS, Brewer RD, Chattopadhyay SK, et al. The effectiveness of tax policy interventions for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harmspdf iconexternal icon [PDF-665KB].  Am J Prev Med 2010;38(2):217–29.
  5. Rammohan V, Hahn RA, Elder R, Brewer R, Fielding J, Naimi TS, et al. Effects of dram shop liability and enhanced overservice law enforcement initiatives on excessive alcohol consumption and related harms: two Community Guide systematic reviewspdf iconexternal icon [PDF-569KB]. Am J Prev Med 2011;41(3):334-43.
  6. Middleton JC, Hahn RA, Kuzara JL, Elder R, Brewer R, Chattopadhyay S, et al. Effectiveness of policies maintaining or restricting days of alcohol sales on excessive alcohol consumption and related harmspdf iconexternal icon [PDF-674KB]. Am J Prev Med 2010;39(6):575–89.
  7. Hahn RA, Kuzara JL, Elder R, Brewer R, Chattopadhyay S, Fielding J, et al. Effectiveness of policies restricting hours of alcohol sales in preventing excessive alcohol consumption and related harmspdf iconexternal icon [PDF-735KB]. Am J Prev Med 2010;39(6):590–604.
  8. Tansil KA, Esser MB, Sandhu P, Reynolds JA, Elder RW, Williamson RS, et al. Alcohol electronic screening and brief intervention: a Community Guide systematic reviewpdf iconexternal icon [PDF-605KB]. Am J Prev Med 2016;51(5):801–11.
  9. Elder RW, Lawrence B, Janes G, Brewer RD, Toomey TL, Hingson RW, et al. Enhanced enforcement of laws prohibiting sale of alcohol to minors: systematic review of effectiveness for reducing sales and underage drinking. Transportation Research E-Circular. 2007;Issue E-C123:181-8. (Access full text article from the issue, Traffic Safety and Alcohol Regulation: A Symposiumexternal icon).
  10. Hahn RA, Middleton JC, Elder R, Brewer R, Fielding J, Naimi TS, et al. Effects of alcohol retail privatization on excessive alcohol consumption and related harms: a Community Guide systematic reviewpdf iconexternal icon  [PDF-322KB]. Am J Prev Med. 2012;42(4):418-27.
  11. US Preventive Services Task Force. Screening and Behavioral Counseling Interventions in Primary Care to Reduce Alcohol Misuse: Recommendation Statement Web siteexternal icon.
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americansexternal icon. 8th Edition, Washington, DC; 2015.


Alcohol Use Disorder: What It Is, Risks & Treatment

Preventing Alcohol Abuse Disorders

Alcohol use disorder (sometimes called alcoholism) is a medical condition. It involves heavy or frequent alcohol drinking even when it causes problems, emotional distress or physical harm.

A combination of medications, behavioral therapy and support can help you or a loved one recover. Alcohol Use Disorder

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition involving frequent or heavy alcohol use.

People with alcohol use disorder can’t stop drinking, even when it causes problems, emotional distress or physical harm to themselves or others.

Is alcohol use disorder a disease?

Alcohol use disorder is a medical condition. It’s a disease of brain function and requires medical and psychological treatments to control it.

Alcohol use disorder can be mild, moderate or severe. It can develop quickly or over a long period of time. It’s also called alcohol dependence, alcohol addiction or alcohol abuse.

How common is alcohol use disorder?

14.5 million Americans 12 years or older have an alcohol use disorder.

How can drinking too much affect me?

Drinking too much alcohol can damage your health. It’s associated with:

  • Brain damage, including dementia.
  • Despair, depression and suicide.
  • Cancers of the breast, liver, colon and mouth.
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome (if exposed to alcohol before birth).
  • Accidents ( falls or burns) and injuries ( fractures or drowning).
  • Liver problems, such as cirrhosis, hepatitis and fatty liver.
  • Blackouts, assaults, DUIs and even homicide.

Frequent or heavy drinking can also lead to personal problems, such as trouble with:

  • Money.
  • Personal relationships.
  • Work.

Scientists are still trying to understand what causes alcohol use disorder. It appears to be a combination of one or more of the following:

  • Genetics.
  • Early childhood events.
  • Attempts to relieve emotional pain.

People are more ly to become an alcoholic if they:

  • Consume alcohol often, in large amounts or start early in life.
  • Experienced trauma, such as physical or sexual abuse.
  • Have a family history of alcohol problems.
  • Have mental health issues, such as grief, anxiety, depression, eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.
  • Have had stomach bypass surgery (Roux-en-y) for weight issues.

What are the symptoms of alcohol use disorder?

Signs of alcohol use disorder include:

  • Blacking out or not remembering things that happened.
  • Continuing to drink even if it causes distress or harm to you or others.
  • Drinking more or longer than you planned.
  • Feeling irritable or cranky when you’re not drinking.
  • Frequent hangovers.
  • Getting into dangerous situations when you’re drinking (for example, driving, having unsafe sex or falling).
  • Giving up activities so you can drink.
  • Having cravings for alcohol.
  • Having repeated problems with work, school, relationships or the law because of drinking.
  • Needing to drink more and more to get the same effect.
  • Not being able to stop drinking once you’ve started.
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from drinking.
  • Wanting to cut back but not being able to.
  • Obsessing over alcohol.

A person who is alcohol dependent also might experience symptoms of withdrawal when they cut back or stop drinking, such as:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • Irritability.
  • Nausea, dry heaves.
  • Racing heart.
  • Restlessness.
  • Shakiness.
  • Sweating.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Seizures.
  • Seeing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).
  • Delirium tremens.
  • Coma and death.

What are the stages of alcohol use disorder?

Alcohol use that turns into a use disorder develops in stages.

  • At-risk stage: This is when you drink socially or drink to relieve stress or to feel better. You may start to develop a tolerance for alcohol.
  • Early alcohol use disorder: In this stage, you have progressed to blackouts, drinking alone or in secret and thinking about alcohol a lot.
  • Mid-stage alcohol use disorder: Your alcohol use is now control and causes problems with daily life (work, family, financial, physical and mental health). Organ damage can be seen on lab tests and scans.
  • End-stage alcohol use disorder: Drinking is now the main focus of your life, to the exclusion of food, intimacy, health and happiness. Despair, complications of organ damage and death are now close.

There’s no single lab test for alcohol use disorder. Diagnosis is a conversation with your healthcare provider. The diagnosis is made when drinking interferes with your life or affects your health.

Treatment may include a combination of:

  • Behavioral therapies: Counseling, or talk therapy, with a healthcare provider a psychologist or mental health counselor can teach you ways to change your behavior. Motivational, cognitive-behavioral, contingency and 12-step facilitation are the most commonly used techniques.
  • Medications: The U.S. Food & Drug Administration has approved naltrexone and acamprosate for the treatment of alcohol use disorder. Topiramate and gabapentin can also decrease cravings in some people. An older medication — disulfiram — is now used only rarely. These medications seem to help decrease the background obsessional thinking around alcohol.
  • Support groups: Group meetings with other alcoholics can help you stay sober. Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings are usually free and are available in most communities. Other styles of recovery groups include: Celebrate! Recovery (Christian focus), Rational Recovery (non-spiritual) and Recovery Dharma (mindfulness/Buddhist focus).

Your treatment setting will depend on your stage of recovery and the severity of your illness. You may need inpatient medical (hospital), residential rehabilitation (rehab), outpatient intensive therapy or outpatient maintenance.

To prevent alcohol problems, avoid high-risk drinking:

  • For women: No more than four or more drinks in one day or eight or more drinks per week.
  • For men: No more than five or more drinks in one day or 15 or more drinks per week.

If you drink more alcohol than that, consider cutting back or quitting. Talk to your healthcare provider about proven strategies.

Your outlook depends on many factors. Milder cases may only be problematic for a period of time. Severe cases are often a lifelong struggle.

The sooner you recognize there may be a problem and talk to your healthcare provider, the better your recovery chances.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers a hotline, 24/7, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Alcoholics Anonymous is available almost everywhere and provides a place to openly and non-judgmentally discuss alcohol problems with others who have suffered from alcohol.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

No matter how hopeless alcohol use disorder may seem, treatment can help. If you think you might have a problem with alcohol, call SAMHSA or talk to your healthcare provider. They can help you cope, make a treatment plan, prescribe medications and refer you to support programs.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/02/2021.



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