If you've ever thought you should stop drinking, you probably should. In fact, drinking to excess is responsible for 88,000 deaths every year. But just because you're drinking enough to black out and put yourself in life-threatening danger doesn't mean you have a problem. According to a new study by the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, nine out of ten excessive drinkers in the US aren't actually addicted. So now they have no excuse.
According to the study, most heavy drinkers engage in binge drinking, a pattern of consuming enough alcohol to become drunk in a short period of time. But even people who binge drink frequently aren't usually dependent on alcohol. So when they tell you they can stop whenever they want, they might (gasp!) be telling you the truth.
In fact, the study found that while roughly one in three adult Americans drinks excessively, only one in thirty is a clinical alcoholic. That's only 3.5%, which may come as a shock to anyone who's been to college.
But don't celebrate yet. (In fact, if this news makes you want to celebrate, you might be an alcoholic.) The authors of the study don't mean it to be an endorsement of heavy drinking – far from it. They want the problem of excessive drinking to be addressed differently from alcohol dependence as a public health issue. Bob Brewer, the head of the CDC's Alcohol Program, told The Washington Post that,
Knowing that nine out of 10 people who drink too much are not alcohol dependent in no way diminishes the impact of alcohol dependence as a problem. It just says the problem we're dealing with is bigger than that. We need to look at this problem with a wider-angle lens and consider not just treatment for those who need it.
It's all about preventative care. After all, it's easier to help a frequent binge drinker learn to control their drinking than to wait until they develop an addiction. And it significantly reduces the chances that they'll ruin their health or die from alcohol-related conditions. Not to mention it will make them much less obnoxious at parties. Everyone benefits from that.
From a medical perspective, alcoholics are distinguished by withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking, as well as multiple unsuccessful attempts to quit. They tend to keep drinking for years, despite the fact that they acknowledge major problems in their lives directly caused by alcohol. If this sounds like you or someone you know, you can find resources at this page from the National Institutes for Health.
Based on the study, Brewer recommends certain governmental measures to help control binge drinking across the country. These include raising the price of alcohol and restricting the distribution of liquor licenses. Honestly, that's where he lost us. Obviously excessive drinking is a critical health problem, but nobody comes between us and our cheap wine.