How Many Drinkers Are Actually Alcoholics?

January 6, 2015

We all know of someone who drinks a little too much and holiday times can shine a spotlight on such behavior. The tendency, jokingly or not, is to brand them as an alcoholic. New research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as well as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has deemed that 9 out of 10 adults who drink excessively are not, in fact, alcoholics or alcohol dependent. According to the CDC, someone who drinks excessively is:

  • A binge drinker
  • A man who consumes 15 or more drinks a week
  • A woman who consumes 8 or more drinks per week
  • Pregnant women that drink
  • Underage drinkers

The results of the study show that while 1 in 3 adults are excessive drinkers, most being binge drinkers, only 1 in 30 adults are considered alcoholics.

From our perspective, while we understand and appreciate the value of this study, especially because it sample size of over 138,000 US adults in all 50 states is comprehensive, we believe that it is hard to make a determination of alcoholism based solely on a snapshot of someone’s alcohol use. There are dozens of underlying issues that push someone to drink excessively and alcoholism can develop over time. This study does not help us understand how many people turn from binge drinking or excessive alcohol consumption to chronic alcohol abuse and dependence

From our own experience, we know that alcoholism is insidious disease. Alcoholics are very adept at hiding their problem, especially in its earliest stages. And this study is further confounded by the results being self-reported. The bottom line? It is important to stay vigilant about friends and loved ones who maybe suffering from the effects of excessive alcohol. In the near-term they risk serious injury or death – over 88,000 people die of excessive alcohol use every year – and in the longer-term, excessive alcohol use can lead to dependence. In order to prevent the serious physical and emotional consequences, we need to fully understand the effects and consequences of excessive alcohol consumption.

See the press release: https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p1120-excessive-driniking.html