More Americans Drink to Excess Than Even Before
A new study from The Center for Disease Control claims that one in three, or 33%, of American adults drink to excess.
Think about that for a minute. The CDC is saying that a third of everyone over the age of eighteen drinks too much. That works out to approximately 100 million people.
Really, give that number a minute to sink in.
The Silver Lining
Okay, ready for some good news to balance out those scary numbers? Well, according to Robert Brewer, the co-author of this new study, “most people who drink too much are not alcohol dependent.”
In fact, the study found that only 10% of excessive drinkers meet the criteria for alcoholism. The number was the same for binge drinkers – only 10% of those who admitted to binge drinking meet the criteria for alcohol dependence.
Among those who don’t drink to excess or binge drink, the percentage of alcoholics was found to be just over 1%. That sounds like a more realistic number to me.
Before we go any further, let’s clarify exactly what drinking to excess, binge drinking, and alcohol dependence/alcoholism mean.
What is Drinking to Excess?
The CDC defines drinking to excess differently for men and women. For men, it’s consuming fifteen or more drinks per week. For women, it’s consuming eight or more drinks per week.
These numbers make it a bit clearer why so many Americans drink to excess. Most people have a glass of wine or a beer with dinner. If they do that every night, and then have a few drinks over the weekend, they’re drinking to excess.
These numbers also explain why a mere 10% of excessive drinkers meet the criteria for alcoholism. Although people may be drinking too much, they don’t have trouble stopping, and they don’t experience withdrawals when stopped.
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What is Binge Drinking?
Binge drinking is also defined differently for men and women. For men, binge drinking is when they consume more than five drinks in a short period. For women, it’s when they consume more than four drinks in a short period.
It’s important to note that these are rough estimates. Binge drinking depends on a person’s weight, height, and how quickly they metabolize alcohol.
While binge drinking has long been associated with alcoholism, this isn’t always the case. Remember, the CDC’s new study found that only 10% of those who binge drink are alcohol dependent.
What is Alcohol Dependence?
Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, is one of the most misunderstood terms in the English language. Ask ten people what alcoholism means and you’ll likely get ten different answers.
There’s the twelve-step definition of alcoholism, which proposes that it’s a disease of body, mind, and spirit. Then there’s the medical definition. This proposes alcohol dependence is a rewiring of the brain which leads to physical withdrawal symptoms and the inability to stop drinking despite negative consequences.
For the purpose of this article, I’m going to define alcohol dependence as the CDC does. They explain alcoholism as a chronic disease that includes “a strong craving for alcohol, continued use despite repeated, physical, psychological, or interpersonal problems, and the inability to limit drinking.”
Enough Statistics & Definitions: What Does This Mean for Me?
Statistics and definitions are boring if we can’t tell how they impact our lives on a day-to-day level. So, the question becomes how, if at all, do these new numbers about excessive drinking affect you?
To put it simply, most people aren’t going to be affected at all by this study. That’s because most people fall into the category of excessive drinking as defined above. They drink a small amount on a regular basis. Over a period of time, say a week or month, these drinks add up to make them, technically speaking, excessive drinkers.
However, and this is an important however, their alcohol use doesn’t negatively impact their lives. So, despite being excessive drinkers, their live aren’t unmanageable.
For binge drinkers, these new numbers mean they should closely monitor their alcohol intake. Speaking from experience, it’s a swift transition from drinking too much on the weekends, to drinking too much everyday.