Nine out of 10 adults who have a drinking problem are not alcohol dependent — instead, they are binge drinkers and/or excessive drinkers, according to a new study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
For men, binge drinking is defined as having five or more drinks on one occasion; for women, four or more drinks. Excessive drinking involves consuming 15 or more drinks a week for men and eight or more drinks a week for women, or any alcohol use by pregnant women or those under the minimum legal drinking age of 21.
Alcohol dependence is a chronic medical condition that often includes a strong craving for alcohol, a history of excessive drinking, continued use despite repeated problems with drinking, and an inability to control alcohol consumption.
For the research, CDC and SAMHSA scientists analyzed data on 138,100 U.S. adults aged 18 years and older from all 50 states and D.C. who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) in 2009, 2010, or 2011. The survey asked a variety of questions about substance use, including current drinking, binge drinking, average alcohol consumption, and symptoms of alcohol dependence.
“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 health care settings, and high-quality substance abuse treatment for those who need it.”
The researchers found that nearly one in three adults is an excessive drinker, and most of them binge drink, often on multiple occasions. On the other hand, about one in 30 adults is considered alcohol-dependent. About 10 percent of binge drinkers are alcohol dependent, while 30 percent of people who binge frequently (10 or more times a month) are alcohol-dependent.
Excessive drinkers who are also alcohol-dependent often need professional, intensive treatment to change their behavior. Excessive drinkers who are not alcohol-dependent can still be encouraged to drink less through state and local interventions that increase the price and limit the availability of alcohol.
Those who are not dependent may also be candidates for other clinical interventions, including screening and counseling offered by doctors and other health professionals.
The study is published in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease.