Alcohol Abuse: Most Excessive Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics, Says CDC

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Alcohol abuse isn’t what you think. Most people who drink too much are not alcoholics. According to a new study that appeared in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease, nine in 10 adults that drink excessively are not alcohol dependent.

Excessive drinking means drinking four drinks or more in a sitting for women or five drinks or more in a sitting for men. While binge drinking is a cause of excessive drinking, so is having more than eight drinks per week if you’re a woman or more than 15 drinks per week if you’re a man. Women are unable to metabolize alcohol as fast as men, so never try and keep up with a partner of the opposite sex. Alcohol dependence on the other hand, usually includes excessive drinking but it also means having a strong craving for alcohol and an inability to control consumption.

“This study shows that, contrary to popular opinion, most people who drink too much are not alcohol dependent or alcoholics,” said Robert Brewer, M.D., M.S.P.H., Alcohol Program Lead at CDC and one of the report’s authors. “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.”

One in three adults drink too much while only one in 30 are considered alcoholics. In all, 10 percent of binge drinkers are alcohol dependent. While alcohol abuse is a much more common problem.

According to CDC:

Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year (including about 3,700 deaths from alcohol dependence), and cost the U.S. $223.5 billion in 2006. These deaths were due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as breast cancer, liver disease, and heart disease; and health effects from drinking too much in a short period of time, such as violence, alcohol poisoning, and motor vehicle crashes.

Moderate drinking is just that, moderate. For women, that means one 5 ounce glass of wine per day, including the weekends. If you plan to have two drinks in a sitting on the weekend, make sure you don’t have a glass each weekday.

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Image: Jason Scragz