Know the Facts

Helping you make informed decisions about your drinking

Alcohol Use Disorders

Risky drinking

About 80% of the Australian population drink alcohol, but only 46.7% drink every week, and only 7.2% drink every day. Alcohol use is more common among men than women. Whether your drinking patterns are problematic or not depends not only on how often you drink, but also how much.

Drinking more than an average of 2 standard drinks a day is considered risky for possibly developing an alcohol-related illness over your lifetime, such as liver disease or cancer. 20% of Australians drink at levels considered risky for such harm.

Drinking more than 4 standard drinks on a single occasion is considered risky for potential injury from that occasion of drinking, such as an accident or assault. Only 16% of Australians drink at this level every week, and only 4.7% drink that much daily.

Alcohol use can have many impacts on your life, some minor and some major. When those impacts reach a certain level, it is generally considered that alcohol use has become a problem. In the health field, these problems are classified into two types of alcohol use disorder – Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Dependence.

Alcohol abuse

Alcohol Abuse refers to a pattern of alcohol use that causes recurring problems and/or distress in one or more major life areas. If you have an alcohol abuse problem you may find that:

  • your use of alcohol interferes with your ability to perform your usual duties such as work, study or responsibilities at home
  • you use alcohol in situations that might be dangerous, such as driving under the influence, operating machinery, riding a bike etc
  • you have legal problems relating to alcohol use, such as charges for drunk and disorderly or public nuisance
  • you keep drinking despite it causing social or relationship problems, such as arguments or fights

If your alcohol use has caused problems in any of the above areas more than once in the last 12 months, you may have an alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol dependence

Alcohol Dependence refers to a pattern of alcohol use where drinking is continued despite alcohol causing significant problems and in spite of efforts or desires to stop. If you have an alcohol dependence problem you may find that you:

  • need to drink more and more to get the same effect as before, or, find that the same amount is having less effect over time
  • experience withdrawal symptoms on stopping, or, keep drinking to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • drink more alcohol, or drink it for a longer period, than you had intended
  • want to cut back, and may try to, but are unable to
  • spend a lot of your time in alcohol-related activities, such as getting it, drinking it and recovering from its effects
  • give up other important activities because of alcohol, such as hobbies and socialising
  • keep drinking even though you are aware it is causing you physical or psychological problems, such as a stomach ulcer or depression

If you have experienced 3 or more of these problems in the last 12 months, you may have an alcohol use disorder.

What should I do?

If you are worried you may have an alcohol use disorder, there are lots of places you can get help.

Talking to your doctor is always a good place to start. They can assess your current alcohol use and give advice about how you can cut down safely. They will also be able to refer you to other places for counselling.

You can also contact an alcohol service directly. Consult the SayWhen Help Services section for contact numbers


  • American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision (DSM-IV-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  • Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (2011). 2010 National Drug Strategy Household Survey report. Drug statistics series no. 25. (Cat. no. PHE 145). Canberra: AIHW.
  • World Health Organisation. (1992). ICD-10 classifications of mental and behavioural disorder: Clinical descriptions and diagnostic guidelines. Geneva: World Health Organisation.