Most People Who Drink Excessively Are Not Alcoholics, CDC Says

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) teamed up with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to find out how common alcohol dependence is among excessive drinkers. Their findings were contrary to widespread public belief. The study is published in the medical journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

Dr. Robert Brewer co-authored the study and is the leader of the Alcohol Program at the CDC. While it is popular belief that people who drink excessively are usually alcoholics, the research team noted that there are few studies that have actually investigated this belief.

For the purpose of their study, the CDC defined excessive drinking as heavy drinking, binge drinking or consumption of alcohol by pregnant women or under-aged individuals. Heavy drinking was defined as eight or more drinks each week for women and 15 or more drinks each week by men. Binge drinking meant drinking four or more alcoholic drinks at a time for women and five or more alcoholic drinks at a time by men.

The researchers looked at data from 138,100 adults who responded to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009, 2010, or 2011. In general, surveys where alcohol use is self-reported are weaker than other types of studies, but the results were dramatic enough to be considered relevant. During the survey, people were asked questions regarding binge drinking, alcohol consumption, drinking habits, cravings, ongoing alcohol use and alcohol consumption control abilities. One-third of all those surveyed fit the definition of an excessive drinker.

Surprisingly, only 10.2 percent of the people categorized as excessive drinkers reported signs of being alcohol dependent, according to the CDC study. This could explain why alcohol policies that involved raising alcohol taxes have, according to Medical News Today, proved effective. Excessive alcohol drinkers who are actually alcoholics need specialized treatment to change their behavior, according to the CDC, specifying that non-alcoholics could be encouraged to reduce their alcohol intake through other means such as alcohol taxes and limiting the availability of alcohol.

“This study shows that, contrary to popular opinion, most people who drink too much are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics,” Brewer said, according to Medical News Today.“It also emphasizes the importance of taking a comprehensive approach to reducing excessive drinking that includes evidence-based community strategies, screening and counseling in healthcare settings, and high-quality substance abuse treatment for those who need it.”Like the CDC’s surprising findings, another recent study found that most people do not carry the genome that makes moderate alcohol consumption healthy for the heart.

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