Alcohol Misuse

If you are like many Americans, you drink alcohol now and then. For many people, moderate drinking is probably safe. It may even have health benefits, including reducing your risk of certain heart problems. 

For some people, drinking alcohol increases the risk of health and other problems. You can read more about the health effects of alcohol below. To reduce the risk of alcohol-related harms, if you drink alcohol, drink it in moderation.

What is "moderate drinking"?

Moderate alcohol drinking means having up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men. 


Who Shouldn't Drink?

If you have questions about whether it is safe for you to drink, talk to your healthcare provider. Some people should not drink at all, including:

  • Women who are or may be pregnant
  • People under age 21
  • People with certain health conditions or who are taking certain medicines
  • Recovering alcoholics
  • People who are doing things that need skill and attention, like driving a car

Health Effects

alcoholeffects Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of:

  • Alcoholism
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Injuries
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Some types of cancer
  • Problems at home, at work, and with friends.

To learn more about alcohol's impact on your health, visit theĀ National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Need Help?

sahmsahelpline Members who are in crises should call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room department.

How do I know if I need help?

Alcohol misuse is a pattern of drinking that is harmful to the drinker or to others. Alcoholism is a lifelong disease and it can get worse over time or be life-threatening. Here are some signs of alcoholism:

  • Craving: a strong need to drink 
  • Loss of control: the inability to stop drinking
  • Physical dependence: withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety, when alcohol use is stopped after a period of heavy drinking
  • Tolerance: the need for increasing amounts of alcohol  

If you are drinking too much, you can improve your health by cutting back or quitting. Here are some strategies to help you cut back or stop drinking:

  • Limit your drinking to no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men. 
  • Keep track of how much you drink. 
  • Choose a day each week when you will not drink. 
  • Don’t drink when you are upset. 
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you keep at home. 
  • Don't go places where people drink a lot. 
  • Make a list of reasons not to drink. 
  • If you are concerned about someone else’s drinking, offer to help.

Use the quizzes on the "Rethinking Drinking" website to see if you may have a problem with alcohol. You can also check out the "Resources" tab for help in your area.

Does your friend or family member need help?

If you are worried that someone you know might be misusing alcohol and needs help, here are some things you can do.

  • Attend support groups, like Al-Anon (check out the 'Resources' tab)
  • Talk with your friend or loved one about your concerns. Let them know how you feel.
  • Talk to other family members or friends. 
  • Don't blame yourself, and make sure to take care of yourself.
  • Contact their healthcare provider or community alcohol abuse program

Member Health Plan Benefits

callMembers who are in crises should call 911, or go to the nearest emergency room department.

If you need alcohol and drug services and you are not in crises, call and talk with your primary healthcare provider (PCP) first. Your PCP can talk with you to see if you may have a problem with alcohol, and will refer you to the correct resource for help.

CenCal Health does not cover services for major substance use disorder. These services are provided to you by the County Alcohol and Drug Program. Services they provide include:

  • Substance Use Disorder Benefits
  • Voluntary Inpatient Detoxification
  • Intensive Outpatient Treatment Services
  • Outpatient Drug Free Services
  • Narcotic Treatment Services

For these services you can call the County Alcohol and Drug Program at:

  • Santa Barbara: 1-888-868-1649
  • San Luis Obispo: 1-800-838-1381


sahmsahelpline Alcoholics Anonymous

Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse

  • Santa Barbara: 805-963-1433
  • Santa Maria: 805-925-8860

Good Samaritan Services

  • Lompoc: 805-736-0357
  • Santa Maria: 805-347-3338 ext. 102

County Drug and Alcohol Services

Sanctuary Centers of Santa Barbara

Coast Valley Substance Abuse Center

Cambria Connection

  • Cambria: 805-927-1654

Al-Anon (for friends and family members)


Rethinking Drinking

Alcohol and Your Health