One in three adults drinks excessively, according to the CDC. But that doesn’t automatically mean that person is an alcoholic, according to a new study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

CDC epidemiologist and study co-author Robert Brewer told The Salt, [pullquote]”The reality of the situation is that most adults who drink, they’re drinking maybe a couple drinks during week and then typically drinking [larger] amounts on weekends.”[/pullquote]

What is “excessive drinking”?

too many shots

First, it’s important to define what constitutes “one drink.” The CDC researchers defined a drink as being 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.

Next, men and women have different criteria for “excessive drinking.” Women who consume eight or more drinks per week are considered excessive drinkers. Meanwhile, the magic number is 15 drinks for men.

But as Brewer pointed out to The Salt, most excessive drinkers also follow more of a binge-drinking pattern, where they’ll consume four or more drinks on a single occasion.

Health Hazards Associated with Excessive Drinking

The CDC estimates that excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for 88,000 deaths in this country per year, at a cost of more than $200 billion.

Here’s a just handful of the diseases that are linked to heavy drinking:

  • liver disease
  • breast cancer
  • heart disease
  • liver cancer

Results of the Study

homer beer

The CDC analyzed data from 138,100 adults who responded to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health between 2009 and 2011. Several interesting results of the study include:

  • Excessive drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol dependence are most common among men aged 18 to 24.
  • Binge drinking is most common among those with an annual family income greater than $75K.
  • Alcohol dependence is most common among those with an annual family income of less than $25K.
  • 90% of excessive drinkers did not meet established criteria for alcohol dependence.

How Is Alcohol Dependence Defined?

To be considered “alcohol dependent” in the CDC’s study, respondents had to meet 3 out of 7 dependence criteria, in addition to consuming at least 1 drink on 6 or more days during the past 12 months.

Diagnostic criteria were taken from the DSM-IV, and include:

  • tolerance
  • withdrawal
  • impaired control
  • unsuccessful attempts to cut down/stop drinking
  • continued use despite problems
  • neglect of activities
  • time spent in alcohol-related activity

Keep in mind, all results in this study were self-reported, and not clinically diagnosed.

What Does This All Mean?

a toast

This study found that around 29% of adults do drink excessively, but most of those aren’t actually “alcoholics.”

It’s an important distinction to make, because excessive drinking in non-alcoholics is a problem that should be addressed differently.

As Brewer told the New York Times, “We need to think about other strategies to address these people who are drinking too much but who are not addicted to alcohol.

Speaking with the Salt, Brewer said that this means those drinkers aren’t likely to need addiction treatment. He also suggested that methods such as increased alcohol taxes might have good results on that type of drinker.

[via the Salt, CDC, Grub Street]