Most Heavy Drinkers Not Alcoholics

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Excessive or binge drinking regularly is done by about 29 percent of the U.S. adult population. However, most heavy drinkers are not actually “alcoholics,” according to a government report.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of regular those who engage in excessive or binge drinking do not fit the technical definition of an alcoholic. The report, which was published Nov. 20 in the CDC’s publication Preventing Chronic Disease, indicates that most of those who indulge in excessive drinking are binge drinkers.

Per the CDC, binge drinking is generally defined four or more drinks on one occasion for a women, and five or more drinks on one occasion for a man. Additionally, women drinkers who consume more than seven drinks per week and male drinkers who imbibe more than 14 drinks per week are considered to be excessive drinkers.

While excessive alcoholism has negative health effects, it does not involve a physical dependency. Alcoholism, by contrast, is a chronic condition that may or may not include having a history of engaging in excessive drinking. It involves a craving for continued drinking in spite of having problems with alcohol repeatedly as well as an inability to stop or control the drinking. Someone who drinks excessively, but can easily not drink for a while and does not crave alcohol, is not an alcoholic.

“A lot of people mistakenly assume that people who drink too much are alcoholics,” according to Dr. Robert Brewer, leader of CDC’s alcohol program, who co-authored the study. He noted that the U.S. society is one where people get a lot of mixed messages about drinking. He pointed out that many believe that drinking, and often a large amount, is one aspect of having a good time. Brewer noted the need to “change the environment in which people make their drinking decisions.”

The CDC is concerned that, while people who drink excessively are not dependent on alcohol, excessive alcohol consumption resulted in approximately 88,000 deaths annually in the U.S. from 2006 to 2010. The government agency reported that excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths of working-age adults from age 20 to 64. However, Brewer noted that excessive drinking is not as difficult to address as alcohol addiction can be.

Simply raising the price of alcoholic beverages by 10 percent has been shown to reduce alcohol consumption by 7 percent in studies. This suggests that higher taxes on alcohol would cut excessive drinking. Even simple interventions from physicians talking with patients about their alcohol consumption curbs behavior somewhat.

Various jurisdictions have attempted to curb excessive drinking in differing ways. A 2010 New York City advertising initiative, called “Two drinks ago,” was effective. In the NYC effort, posters depicted a businessman bruised and bleeding with the phrase “two drinks ago you would have walked away” and a well-dressed women slumped over drunk and wording “two drinks ago you could still get yourself home.” They both featured a tagline that read “Stop drinking while you’re still thinking.”

“I don’t want to minimize the fact that excessive drinking can be a difficult behavior to change,’’ commented Dr. Brewer. But, he also emphasized that most heavy drinkers are not alcoholics so the behavior is easier to change.

By Dyanne Weiss

Web MD
New York Times
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention