What You Should Know about Alcoholism Alcohol is the most used intoxicating substance in the United States. Drinking is legal for people age 21 and older, and most who drink do so without incident. However, there is a continuum of risks and problems associated with alcohol consumption. Risky Drinking Risky drinking involves heavy or excessive drinking, including binge drinking. Binge drinking is defined as four or more drinks on a single occasion for females and five or more drinks for males. Risky drinking also refers to consuming alcohol in situations that involve an increased potential for harm, such as before or while driving, while pregnant, or while taking certain prescription medications (e.g., certain sedatives). Identifying and addressing risky drinking behavior can help to prevent more severe problems of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Alcohol Abuse Alcohol abuse is a recognized medical condition that refers to the regular use of alcohol despite recurrent adverse consequences. A diagnosis of alcohol abuse is made when an individual exhibits one or more of the following within a 12-month period: Recurrent alcohol use resulting in a failure to fulfill obligations at work, school, or home. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile when impaired by alcohol use). Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by alcohol use.