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Research Summary

What Are the Risks of Risky Drinking?

To examine the adverse consequences of risky drinking,* researchers assessed baseline drinking among 22,122 adult national survey participants who had consumed at least 1 drink in the year preceding the baseline interview and measured the 3-year incidence of selected outcomes.

  • At baseline, 60% of subjects reported no risky drinking. Seventeen percent reported risky drinking <1 time per month; 9%, 1 to 3 times per month; 8%, 1 to 2 times per week; 3%, 3 to 4 times per week; and 3%, daily or near daily.
  • The risk for adverse consequences increased as the frequency of risky drinking increased. In adjusted analyses, participants who reported risky drinking 1 to 2 times per week were more  likely than those who reported no risky drinking to have incident alcohol  abuse (odds ratio [OR], 3.3); alcohol dependence (OR, 2.7); drug use (OR, 1.6);  drug dependence (OR, 2.3); tobacco use (OR, 2.7); nicotine dependence (OR, 1.8);  and any liver disease (OR, 2.8). They were also more likely to divorce or separate (OR, 1.3) and lose their driver's licenses (OR, 1.8).
  • In similar analyses, the risk for adverse consequences was generally higher in subjects who reported risky drinking on a daily or near-daily basis.
*In this paper, risky drinking was defined as 5+ drinks in a day for men and 4+ drinks in a day for women.


This study demonstrates increased risk for a wide range of adverse consequences with increasing frequency of heavy episodic drinking. The results support the need to identify individuals with risky drinking; to intervene; and to monitor for alcohol, drug, tobacco, medical, and social problems. Interestingly, frequency of risky drinking was not associated with mood and anxiety disorders in this study.

Kevin L. Kraemer, MD, MSc


Dawson DA, Li TK, Grant BF. A prospective study of risk drinking: at risk for what?
Drug Alcohol Depend. 2008;95(1–2):62–72.