At a glance

  • Drinking some alcohol from time to time usually isn't harmful to your health.
  • But bigger amounts can cause problems.
  • Self-assessment tests and diaries for keeping track of your drinking can help you get an idea of how much alcohol you consume.
  • People with an alcohol dependency often need help to change their drinking habits.
  • One option is "qualified withdrawal treatment," which involves both short-term and long-term steps.


Photo of three young men

Alcohol features in a lot of people’s daily lives, whether as a glass of wine with a meal, a beer after work or while watching TV, or a glass of celebratory champagne with friends. So it's not surprising that around 20% of adults in Germany drink more alcohol than recommended. This is true regardless of age, education or gender.

Drinking alcohol in moderation from time to time is not a cause for concern, but bigger amounts can cause problems. That is why a lot of people resolve to change their drinking habits, perhaps because:

  • they have realized that alcohol is not good for them,
  • they are using medication that can't be taken together with alcohol,
  • they have realized that they drink alcohol to relieve stress or forget about their problems,
  • they did something under the influence of alcohol that they then regretted or that was embarrassing,
  • alcohol has caused disputes in their family, with friends, or at work, or
  • they have developed health problems, for example with the pancreas, stomach, liver, heart or joints.

Changing your drinking habits is never easy. But there are a lot of helpful strategies and places that offer support if you're trying to cut down on drinking. Free and anonymous advice is available in person, by telephone, or on the internet.

How much alcohol is too much?

Most countries have recommendations for “low risk” alcohol consumption. That refers to amounts which have no or only very minor health impacts.

It is important to know that these recommendations are intended as an orientation for healthy adults with no alcohol problems.

The German Office for Addiction Issues (Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen) recommends

  • that women drink a maximum 12 grams of alcohol per day, for instance one small beer (300 ml) or a small glass of wine (125 ml).
  • that men drink a maximum of 24 grams of alcohol per day, for instance two small beers (600 ml) or one large glass of wine (250 ml).
  • not drinking any alcohol on at least two days a week.

The last point is good advice for making sure that drinking doesn't become habitual. Two things are clear:

  • Alcohol doesn't have any health benefits.
  • The more alcohol you drink, the more harmful it is.
Illustration: Alcohol content of various drinks

Drinking more than the recommended amounts from time to time doesn't mean that you have an alcohol problem. And most people don't drink the same amount every day. They may tend to drink less during the week and a little more at the weekend. As long as you don't binge drink, you can stick to the weekly limits. Studies show that drinking less than 100 grams of alcohol per week on average has no or only minor consequences for your health.

What is binge drinking and why is it a problem?

Drinking a lot of alcohol in a short time is called binge drinking. That means six or more alcoholic drinks in a row. That is equivalent to more than 60 grams of pure alcohol, for instance 1.5 liters of beer or 600 ml of wine.

Binge drinking is a problem because people tend to take greater risks and have fewer inhibitions when they are drunk. That can easily cause accidents or lead to behavior you might later regret. What is more, very large quantities of alcohol can cause alcohol poisoning.

Binge drinking is widespread in Germany. About 40% of men and 25% of women binge drink at least once a month.

Do you have an alcohol problem?

Alcohol problems come in many guises. For instance, some people harm themselves with alcohol because they drink moderate amounts of alcohol on a daily basis, without ever getting drunk (“delta alcoholic”). They have usually already become accustomed to alcohol and need a minimum amount of alcohol in their blood to not have any withdrawal symptoms such as the shakes. Other people only drink rarely, however, but then can't stop and get so drunk that they end up in trouble (“episodic drinker”).

Not only the amount of alcohol, but also your drinking habits and the role alcohol plays in your life are decisive in determining whether you have an alcohol problem:

  • Do you frequently drink to brush your worries away or to “function” from day-to-day?
  • Do you tend to binge drink? Do you lose control of how much you are drinking?
  • Is alcohol a regular feature in your life that you often think about? Do you feel guilty about your alcohol consumption?
  • Have you experienced difficulties in the past because of alcohol? Do you argue with your partner about your drinking habits? Do you turn up late to work because you have a hangover?
  • Have you ever tried to change your drinking habits but failed?

If you responded to one or more of these questions with “yes,” that could be a sign that you have a problem with your drinking behavior. It is particularly important that you seek help if you have mental illnesses such as anxiety or depression, and don't let the problems get worse because of alcohol.

But even if you answered all questions with “no,” you might still be doing yourself harm with alcohol. Scientists have developed questionnaire tests to identify possible alcohol problems. These tests seek to identify dangerous alcohol consumption at an early stage to prevent harmful effects.

One such test recommended by experts is the AUDIT questionnaire, which you can use to assess your own drinking behavior.

It is a good idea to make some changes if the test results point towards an alcohol problem. Online support programs such as might be a good first step. You can also contact an addiction counseling service anonymously. If you have a trusting relationship with your family doctor, you can also schedule a counseling appointment.

When is it best to say no to alcohol?

There are situations and activities where alcohol can lead you to put yourself and others in danger or commit a criminal offense. It is especially important to be sober

  • when driving,
  • at work, and
  • when doing sports.


Pregnant women shouldn't drink any alcohol, because even small amounts can harm the unborn child.

It is also important that people who have been treated for alcohol dependence and no longer drink alcohol remain tee total. The risk of a relapse is otherwise very high. People with another kind of drug dependence ought not to drink alcohol either, because on the one hand they are often also susceptible to alcohol dependence, and on the other hand, alcohol consumption reduces inhibitions and can tempt people into taking drugs again.

Alcohol can cause problems with certain illnesses, too. This is also true for some medication such as sleeping tablets and certain painkillers. This is because alcohol can intensify or reduce the effect of some medications, which makes people more prone to serious complications.

How can you try to drink less?

Even if you have made a resolution to drink less or no alcohol anymore, it is not all that easy to put that into practice, just as it is not easy to stick to a strict diet. Because alcohol reduces our inhibitions, some people also find it increasingly difficult to stop with each drink they have.

Low-risk alcohol consumption requires you to know your drinking habits and how much you drink. As it is easy to slightly misjudge, it can be helpful to make a note of how much and what types of alcoholic drinks you drink over a few weeks. You can also keep a written drinking diary, and some internet sites have blank diary sheets to help you.

There are also various helpful strategies for low-risk drinking. For instance, you could avoid situations in which you are easily led to drink. If you are at a party, only let someone top up your glass once it is empty. That makes it easier to keep track. Intending to only drink one alcoholic drink can also help. You can find a list with many other helpful tips here:

What is alcohol dependence?

Alcohol dependence is an illness. It often develops gradually, and its signs include

  • strong desire for alcohol,
  • needing more and more alcohol to feel an effect,
  • withdrawal symptoms such as shaking or anxiety without alcohol,
  • continuing to drink even though it has already been causing problems (e.g. absence from work, warnings, accidents or arguments),
  • losing interest in other things because of drinking or no longer fulfilling responsibilities,
  • losing control of your drinking behavior (i.e. you can no longer decide when, how much, how often or where you drink alcohol).

Alcohol dependence is diagnosed if at least three of these criteria are fulfilled.

Short-term withdrawal symptoms also include insomnia, restlessness, nausea, irritability and sweating. Symptoms such as palpitations, cramps and sometimes hallucinations can also develop after hours and days of withdrawal.

How is alcohol dependence treated?

People with an alcohol dependence need help because the vast majority are not able to change their drinking habits by themselves. Alcohol dependence is an illness that can be treated, just like a or arthritis can be treated.


Going “cold turkey” and suddenly stopping drinking without medical assistance if you have an alcohol dependence can cause serious complications such as severe seizures. Medical support is needed to prevent these kinds of problems.

The probability of relapse is very high after a purely physical withdrawal. That is why experts have developed qualified withdrawal treatment. It comprises several elements:

  • Physical withdrawal treatment to detox the body from alcohol, using medication if needed.
  • Psychological therapy is very important for treating mental and physical problems and complications related to the dependence and for support with social problems. It offers strategies for coping without alcohol in everyday life.

Sometimes the treatment first takes the form of a short-term therapy with five sessions to provide support for drinking less or not at all.

Afterwards, qualified withdrawal therapy is planned as longer-term treatment. The withdrawal therapy is very important for preventing a return to drinking. This can include regular contact with an information center and the treatment of any other physical and mental conditions. Many people also find it helpful to join a support group where they can talk to other affected people and motivate each other.

Do you need to stop drinking alcohol completely after a withdrawal?

Lots of people with an alcohol dependence wonder whether it is also possible to adapt their alcohol consumption to low-risk quantities instead of stopping drinking completely. However, there is no reliable research data to suggest that “managed” or “controlled” drinking is possible for people with an alcohol dependence.

Experience shows that even a small glass can pose a very high risk of relapse. So it's important to not drink any alcohol at all after withdrawal.

Foods containing alcohol, such as certain sauces, pralines and desserts, should also be avoided. They can trigger a strong desire for alcohol in the brain and thereby increase the risk of relapse.

I have to be particularly careful if I have depressive thoughts. Situations like that put me at risk of reaching for the bottle again to numb everything. In those kinds of situations, it helps me to remind myself where I ended up because of alcohol, what it was like back then, what I gave up, what I achieved...

Christopher, 53 years old,

Who can you contact about alcohol problems?

If you want to change your drinking habits, you can join an online support program or contact a number of information centers anonymously. That means you don't have to provide your name, address or health insurance details. You can also find advice and support there if you're worried about a loved one’s alcohol consumption.

Lots of people with alcohol problems try to get them under control on their own for a while before realizing that they need help. Feelings of shame and guilt often play a major role. However, there are many reasons for alcohol problems which have nothing to do with guilt or personal weakness. Those who manage to tackle them and seek support show courage and responsibility. It often takes several attempts to change drinking habits. But that's no reason to be discouraged.

Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Wissenschaftlichen Medizinischen Fachgesellschaften (AWMF), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Psychosomatik und Nervenheilkunde (DGPPN), Deutsche Gesellschaft für Suchtforschung und Suchttherapie (DG-Sucht). Screening, Diagnose und Behandlung alkoholbezogener Störungen (S3-Leitlinie). AWMF-Registernr.: 076-001. 2020.

Deutsche Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen (DHS). Wie sollten Menschen mit Alkohol umgehen, um Gesundheitsrisiken zu verringern? Stellungnahme der Deutschen Hauptstelle für Suchtfragen. 2019.

John U, Seitz HK. Alkoholumgang: Konsum bedeutet immer Risiko. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2018; 115(14): 640-644.

Lange C, Manz K, Kuntz B. Alkoholkonsum bei Erwachsenen in Deutschland: Riskante Trinkmengen. Journal of Health Monitoring 2017; 2(2): 66-72.

Muckle W, Muckle J, Welch V et al. Managed alcohol as a harm reduction intervention for alcohol addiction in populations at high risk for substance abuse. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012; (12): CD006747.

Zill JM, Christalle E, Meyer B et al. The Effectiveness of an Internet Intervention Aimed at Reducing Alcohol Consumption in Adults. Dtsch Arztebl Int 2019; 116(8): 127-133.

IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. can provide support for talks with doctors and other medical professionals, but cannot replace them. We do not offer individual consultations.

Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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Please note that we do not provide individual advice on matters of health. You can read about where to find help and support in Germany in our information “How can I find self-help groups and information centers?

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Updated on February 28, 2023

Next planned update: 2026


Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG, Germany)

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