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Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital


Risky Drinking and Your Health

Risky Drinking

How many drinks are too many?

By Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Thursday, April 2, 2015

Alcohol use is common in our society.  Many Veterans can enjoy an occasional drink with no negative consequences.  However, some Veterans misuse alcohol and engage in “risky drinking”. Misuse of alcohol does not necessarily mean someone is alcohol-dependent or an “alcoholic”.  Yet, risky drinking is unhealthy drinking, and can cause serious health problems.

Veterans may be unaware when alcohol use has crossed over to risky drinking.  For this reason, VA healthcare providers use a tool called the AUDIT-C to increase awareness about drinking habits.  The AUDIT-C is a 3 question screen to identify alcohol misuse.  The AUDIT-C consists of three questions: 
1) How often do you have a drink containing alcohol;
2) How many standard drinks containing alcohol do you have on a typical day;
3) How often do you have six or more drinks on one occasion?

Veterans who engage in unhealthy drinking receive brief counseling to help them know the health risks of alcohol misuse.  Healthcare providers can offer education about recommended drinking limits and encourage Veterans to cut down and in some cases avoid alcohol use.  The VA requires all Veterans be screened once a year with the AUDIT-C.  The purpose is so Veterans will be more informed about how lifestyle and behaviors affect their health.

Almost every organ of the body can be hurt by too much alcohol.  Over time, risky drinking can lead to cancer, heart problems, high blood pressure, liver disease, stomach problems and dementia.  It also contributes to depression, PTSD, and other mental health problems.  Alcohol misuse interferes with sleep and can make sleep apnea worse.  Alcohol can also cause dangerous reactions with certain medications.

For Veterans that do drink, how much is too much?  On average, women should drink no more than one drink per day, and no more than 7 drinks per week.  Men should have no more than two drinks per day and no more than 14 drinks a week.  Some Veterans should avoid alcohol completely, including those recovering from alcohol dependence or who are unable to control how much they drink.  Veterans who are pregnant should also avoid all alcohol.

Be sure to let your health care provider know about any alcohol use.  Veterans often decide to cut back or limit their alcohol once they know how it is affecting their health.  If you are concerned about your drinking, talk to your VA health care provider or call the Truman VA Behavioral Health Department at (573) 814-6486.  Help is available.

To learn more about how alcohol can affect your health, visit


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