Risky Substance Abuse | Center on Addiction

What is risky substance use

What is risky substance use?

Risky substance use refers to using tobacco, alcohol or other drugs in ways that threaten the health and safety of the user, as well as others, but does not meet the clinical criteria for a substance problem.

Risky substance use includes:

  • Exceeding the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) guidelines for alcohol use:
    • Women – no more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 drinks in a week 
    • Men – no more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 drinks in a week  
    • No alcohol consumption for:
      • Persons under the age of 21
      • Pregnant women
      • Individuals taking prescription or over-the-counter medications that can interact with alcohol
      • Individuals with certain medical conditions such as liver disease or pancreatitis that maybe negatively affected by alcohol use
      • Individuals who plan to drive, operate machinery or take part in other activities that require attention, skill or coordination; or in situations where impaired judgment could cause injury or death, like swimming
      • Persons recovering from alcoholism or who cannot limit their drinking to low levels
  • Misusing controlled prescription drugs
  • Using illegal drugs
  • Using tobacco or nicotine products

What is Moderate Drinking?

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that women do not drink more than one drink per day and men do not drink more than two drinks per day. This is called moderate drinking. Drinking more than this can increase your risk for certain health problems.

What is Risky Drinking?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines risky drinking as:

  • Women - more than 3 drinks on any day or 7 drinks in a week 
  • Men - more than 4 drinks on any day or 14 drinks in a week  

Risky drinking increases your risk for alcohol problems.

What is Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking means drinking large amounts of alcohol to the point of legal intoxication. Binge drinking is very common on college campuses. NIAAA defines binge drinking as consuming roughly 5 or more drinks for men and 4 or more for women, in short period of time (about 2 hours).  

A Note about Our Research

In our data the term risky substance use refers to people who use any nicotine, illegal drugs, misuse a prescription drug, drink more than moderately as defined by the Dietary Guidelines, or are one of the groups of people above who should not be drinking. 

Risky Business:


CASAColumbia. (2012). Addiction medicine: Closing the gap between science and practice.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.Drinking Levels Defined.

16% Addicition

16% (40 million) of the U.S. population ages 12 and older meet clinical criteria for a substance problem or are addicted to nicotine, alcohol or other drugs.

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