Most Heavy Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics

Most Heavy Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics – The New York Times

Most people who drink to get drunk are not alcoholics, suggesting that more can be done to help heavy drinkers cut back, a new government report concludes.

The finding, from a government survey of 138,100 adults, counters the conventional wisdom that every “falling-down drunk” must be addicted to alcohol.

This is exactly the same as the conventional wisdom that “everyone who takes opioids more than 3 months is an addict”.

Too many people have been brainwashed into automatically judging today’s “too much” and “too often” as  tomorrow’s “addict” as though addiction were just a matter of quantity.

Instead, the results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that nine out of 10 people who drink too much are not addicts, and can change their behavior with a little — or perhaps a lot of — prompting.  

Many people tend to equate excessive drinking with alcohol dependence,’’ said Dr. Robert Brewer, who leads the alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Excessive drinking is defined as drinking too much at one time or over the course of a week. For men, it’s having five or more drinks in one sitting or 15 drinks or more during a week. For women, it’s four drinks on one occasion or eight drinks over the course of a week. Underage drinkers and women who drink any amount while pregnant also are defined as “excessive drinkers.”

Surprisingly, about 29 percent of the population meets the definition for excessive drinking, but 90 percent of them do not meet the definition of alcoholism.

Again, this is the same as with opioids: some percentage of patients takes high dose opioids, but only 95%-97% don’t become addicted.

That’s good news because it means excessive drinking may be an easier problem to solve than previously believed.

Studies show that simply raising the price of an alcoholic beverage by 10 percent reduces alcohol consumption by 7 percent

Dr. Brewer noted that excessive drinking is still a challenging problem, but it is not as difficult to address as alcohol addiction can be.

“I don’t want to minimize the fact that excessive drinking can be a difficult behavior to change even in those people who are not alcohol dependent,’’ said Dr. Brewer.


5 thoughts on “Most Heavy Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics

  1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

    Five standard “drinks” is a LOT. A “drink” is defined as the equivalent of 45 ml ( 1 1/2 fl oz) of 80 proof liquor (40% ethanol content). That’s 245 ml, just over 8 oz, of hard liquor, in a single day. Or 12 standard American beers, or 5 glasses of wine (5 oz glass x 5=25 oz x 30 ml/oz =750 ml, an entire bottle of wine).

    Nope, I don’t buy this. This quantity of liquor falls under “binge drinking,” which is even more maladaptive than steady use. Binge drinking is associated with violence of many kinds, death from alcohol poisoning and alcohol related accidents (falls, diving injuries, motor vehicle crashes, “hunting” injuries, on and on).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      I see you didn’t hang out with the “party crowd” :-)

      I was actually an enthusiastic binge drinker in my 20’s and these amounts sound about right to me.

      In a >6 hour evening of dancing and running around on the beach (in college) I could easily consume a six pack along with a few mixed drinks. I wasn’t fall-down drunk, just full of sassy and unrestrained energy, and very social.

      I didn’t “decide” to stop, it just happened over time. By now, I’ve completely lost the desire to “get drunk” that used to hold such charm for me. Plus, pain meds have pretty much put a stop to my drinking – even a little bit makes me nauseous.

      Life changes some of us more dramatically than others.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. painkills2

    I’m sure that many people who don’t suffer from addiction have been diagnosed with it. The same holds true for depression and many other mental health conditions. If doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with you, then it’s obviously psychiatric in nature. Doctors don’t like to admit when they’re wrong. These labels are given to patients, regardless of whether they’re true or not. And the labels follow them throughout their lives.

    I’m pretty sure that somewhere in my medical file, there’s a mention of addiction. How many patients know what’s in their medical file?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA

      A very important point. That’s why I feel strongly that everyone should be in possession of their own medical records. In many countries, the patient is responsible for keeping their own medical records. Some countries require people to have custody of their records on microfiche, and now probably on a thumb drive. In Israel I was given paper copies, which eventually took up a whole book shelf. When I moved back to the States I threw it all out, because no-one here reads Hebrew too much….nowadays when I ask for my records I have to fill out forms and people look at me like, what, are you planning to sue???? ….depends on what they said about me and whether it’s true, I suppose.

      Liked by 2 people


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