If you drink excessively or have problems with alcohol are you, by definition, an alcoholic? Not according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). A study published by the CDC based on data from 138,000 study participants (the largest study of its kind ever published), found that 90% of those who identified themselves as “excessive” or “heavy” drinkers were not alcoholics; i.e., did not meet established criteria for a diagnosis of Alcohol Dependence. (Click here to read the full report on the CDC website.)
While the term “alcoholism” has disappeared from the professional/medical vocabulary, it is still used by the general public and the media as a label for anyone whose alcohol consumption is excessive and causes problems for the drinker and/or others.
Even binge drinkers are not necessarily alcoholics
As reported by Tara Parker Pope in the New York Times:
…about 29 percent of the population meets the definition for excessive drinking, but 90 percent of them do not meet the definition of alcoholism.… [Dr. Robert Brewer, who leads the alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] noted that excessive drinking is still a challenging problem, but it is not as difficult to address as alcohol addiction can be.
— Click here to read the full article on the New York Times.
Not everyone who drinks develops a drinking problem. And not everyone who develops a drinking problem is an alcoholic. In fact, there are plenty of healthy adults who drink every day without ever developing an addiction to alcohol. This is one of the reasons why managing alcohol consumption is a very different process than managing drug use. While using opiates or cocaine “recreationally” without developing a problem is largely unrealistic, learning to moderate alcohol intake is possible for many drinkers.
Since drinking is socially acceptable, it can be hard to determine when an occasional night out becomes a serious habit that is likely to get worse.. When alcohol use interferes with your health, your relationships or your career, then that is a good indication that your occasional use may have become a more serious problem.
What do these findings mean for people who want to do something about their drinking?
For one, it means that heavy drinkers who are not alcoholics (i.e., those with less severe alcohol problems) might be able to learn how to reduce their drinking to non-problematic levels rather than give it up completely. Also, these individuals may not need the types of intensive treatments routinely recommended for alcoholics such as inpatient rehabs, intensive outpatient programs (IOPs), and AA meetings. In recent years, harm reduction approaches have led to the development of alcohol moderation programs such as those offered by Dr. Washton and his colleagues in Manhattan and Princeton NJ, for people who want to reduce their drinking to avoid negative consequences and improve their overall health (i.e., to eliminate the harm caused by drinking).
How much drinking is “too much”?
The National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse defines the upper limits of non-harmful or “low risk” drinking as follows: (These are upper limits, not recommended levels of drinking)
For adult men: five or more drinks in one sitting or 15 drinks or more during a week.
For adult women: four drinks on one occasion or eight drinks over the course of a week. Any drinking while pregnant is defined as “excessive drinking.”
To evaluate your current alcohol consumption, Click here and take the alcohol self-assessment quiz.
Reach out to Dr. Washton. Private. Discrete. Confidential.
When drinking is out of control and has already caused serious consequences, stopping your drinking completely may be the best path, at least as a starting point. But for “problem drinkers” – who by definition are not alcoholic and not physically addicted to alcohol – learning how to moderate alcohol consumption within safer limits can sometimes be realistic and attainable. Our moderate drinking program can help you learn to cut down on your alcohol consumption and find out for yourself whether moderation or abstinence is the best choice (click here to see if you’re a good candidate for moderation). Contact us today, to set up your initial consultation with Dr. Washton to explore your options.