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Excessive drinkers not ‘dependent’

If you wrestle with your conscious over whether to have that last drink of the night, you might take some comfort in a recent study which claims 90% of people who drink “to excess” are not alcohol dependent.

According to a study published by the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nine in 10 adults who drink “too much” alcohol are not alcoholics or alcohol dependent.

Excessive drinkers included anyone who engaged in binge drinking (five drinks in one session for men, four for women), consumed eight or more drinks a week for women or 15 or more drinks a week for men, and any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under the minimum legal drinking age of 21.

As part of the study, researchers collected data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, which included responses from 138,100 adults around the country.

It found that while drinking to excess was not advised, exceeding these limits was not the same as alcoholism.

“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.

The study found that while nearly one in three adults is an excessive drinker, only one in 30 adults could be classed as alcohol dependent, fitting three or more of the seven criteria used to evaluate alcohol dependence: tolerance, withdrawal, impaired control, unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking, continued use despite problems, neglect of activities, and time spent in alcohol related activity.

The report noted that excessive drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol dependence were most common among men and those aged 18 to 24, while binge drinking was most common among those with annual family incomes of $75,000 or more.

In comparison, alcohol dependence was most common among those with annual family incomes of less than $25,000.

The report said: “Most excessive drinkers (90%) did not meet the criteria for alcohol dependence. A comprehensive approach to reducing excessive drinking that emphasizes evidence-based policy strategies and clinical preventive services could have an impact on reducing excessive drinking in addition to focusing on the implementation of addiction treatment services.”

Excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for 88,000 deaths annually and cost the United States $223.5 billion in 2006.

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