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How Many Heavy Drinkers Develop Alcoholism?

Posted in Alcoholism

Alcoholism is synonymous with alcohol dependence, a condition centered on lasting brain changes that cause a person to rely on the continuing, uncontrolled consumption of alcohol. This condition is part of alcohol use disorder, a disease that also includes non-dependent alcohol abuse. In a study published in November 2014 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from three U.S. institutions used data from an annual project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to estimate how often people who drink alcohol in heavy amounts develop alcoholism. Heavy Drinking Heavy drinking is also known as “at-risk” drinking; the practice gets this name because people who regularly consume alcohol in large amounts have a statistically increased chance of developing diagnosable problems with alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism. The specific amount of risk associated with heavy drinking depends on the frequency of excessive alcohol intake. According to figures reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 20 percent of all people who drink heavily once per month will develop diagnosable alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Roughly 33 percent of all people who drink heavily once per week will develop problems with these overlapping conditions. Approximately 50 percent of individuals who drink heavily twice or more per week will develop diagnosable problems. Men and women have differing criteria for heavy drinking. A man drinks heavily by regularly consuming at least five standard drinks per day or 15 standard drinks per week. A woman drinks heavily by regularly consuming at least four standard drinks per day or eight standard drinks per week. (Regardless of its overall size, a standard drink contains 0.6 oz of pure ethyl alcohol.) Some heavy drinkers are binge drinkers; this means that, on at least some occasions, they consume enough alcohol to get legally drunk in a maximum of 120 minutes. Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder All people with alcoholism have a physical dependence on ongoing alcohol intake; the amount of alcohol consumed by affected individuals typically meets the criteria used to define heavy drinking. Alcoholism is considered part of alcohol use disorder because a person with a physical dependence on alcohol often undergoes dysfunctional changes in behavior that also appear in people who abuse alcohol but don’t have a physical need to drink. Conversely, a person with a non-dependent pattern of alcohol abuse often develops some of the physical symptoms classically associated with the presence of alcoholism. Doctors in the U.S. only started using the combined alcohol use disorder diagnosis in 2013.  How Many Develop Alcoholism? In the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from the CDC, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Boston University Medical Center used data drawn from three years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2009-2011) to estimate how often adults who qualify as heavy drinkers develop a physical dependence on alcohol. During the timeframe in question, 138,100 nationally representative American adults submitted information to this survey. The researchers looked at three key drinking patterns: the amount of alcohol consumed by each survey respondent in the previous year, the frequency of heavy drinking in the previous year and the frequency of binge drinking in the previous year. Each respondent also self-reported the presence of any symptoms that indicated a dependence on alcohol use. After analyzing the collected data, the researchers concluded that fully 90 percent of all heavy drinking adults in the U.S. (including habitual binge drinkers) do not have alcoholism. However, they also concluded that binge drinkers, in particular, have a roughly 10 times greater chance of developing alcoholism than people who don’t participate in alcohol binges. The researchers identified two demographic groups as the most likely participants in heavy drinking and binge drinking: men in general and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. Members of these two groups also have the highest odds of developing alcoholism. It’s worth noting that the study’s authors did not address the issue of alcohol abuse, the other diagnosable component of alcohol use disorder. This is true largely because, at the time their project began, alcohol abuse and alcoholism were still defined separately in the U.S. In addition, the authors believe that the survey respondents may have underreported their alcohol-related symptoms. These discrepancies mean that the study’s results, while useful for a number of reasons, do not fully reflect the percentage of the American population affected by diagnosable alcohol problems associated with heavy drinking and binge drinking. Alcoholism is synonymous with alcohol dependence, a condition centered on lasting brain changes that cause a person to rely on the continuing, uncontrolled consumption of alcohol. This condition is part of alcohol use disorder, a disease that also includes non-dependent alcohol abuse. In a study published in November 2014 in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention journal Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from three U.S. institutions used data from an annual project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to estimate how often people who drink alcohol in heavy amounts develop alcoholism.

Heavy Drinking

Heavy drinking is also known as “at-risk” drinking; the practice gets this name because people who regularly consume alcohol in large amounts have a statistically increased chance of developing diagnosable problems with alcohol abuse and/or alcoholism. The specific amount of risk associated with heavy drinking depends on the frequency of excessive alcohol intake. According to figures reported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 20 percent of all people who drink heavily once per month will develop diagnosable alcohol abuse or alcoholism. Roughly 33 percent of all people who drink heavily once per week will develop problems with these overlapping conditions. Approximately 50 percent of individuals who drink heavily twice or more per week will develop diagnosable problems.

Men and women have differing criteria for heavy drinking. A man drinks heavily by regularly consuming at least five standard drinks per day or 15 standard drinks per week. A woman drinks heavily by regularly consuming at least four standard drinks per day or eight standard drinks per week. (Regardless of its overall size, a standard drink contains 0.6 oz of pure ethyl alcohol.) Some heavy drinkers are binge drinkers; this means that, on at least some occasions, they consume enough alcohol to get legally drunk in a maximum of 120 minutes.

Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder

All people with alcoholism have a physical dependence on ongoing alcohol intake; the amount of alcohol consumed by affected individuals typically meets the criteria used to define heavy drinking. Alcoholism is considered part of alcohol use disorder because a person with a physical dependence on alcohol often undergoes dysfunctional changes in behavior that also appear in people who abuse alcohol but don’t have a physical need to drink. Conversely, a person with a non-dependent pattern of alcohol abuse often develops some of the physical symptoms classically associated with the presence of alcoholism. Doctors in the U.S. only started using the combined alcohol use disorder diagnosis in 2013.

How Many Develop Alcoholism?

In the study published in Preventing Chronic Disease, researchers from the CDC, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Boston University Medical Center used data drawn from three years of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (2009-2011) to estimate how often adults who qualify as heavy drinkers develop a physical dependence on alcohol. During the timeframe in question, 138,100 nationally representative American adults submitted information to this survey. The researchers looked at three key drinking patterns: the amount of alcohol consumed by each survey respondent in the previous year, the frequency of heavy drinking in the previous year and the frequency of binge drinking in the previous year. Each respondent also self-reported the presence of any symptoms that indicated a dependence on alcohol use.

After analyzing the collected data, the researchers concluded that fully 90 percent of all heavy drinking adults in the U.S. (including habitual binge drinkers) do not have alcoholism. However, they also concluded that binge drinkers, in particular, have a roughly 10 times greater chance of developing alcoholism than people who don’t participate in alcohol binges. The researchers identified two demographic groups as the most likely participants in heavy drinking and binge drinking: men in general and young adults between the ages of 18 and 24. Members of these two groups also have the highest odds of developing alcoholism.

It’s worth noting that the study’s authors did not address the issue of alcohol abuse, the other diagnosable component of alcohol use disorder. This is true largely because, at the time their project began, alcohol abuse and alcoholism were still defined separately in the U.S. In addition, the authors believe that the survey respondents may have underreported their alcohol-related symptoms. These discrepancies mean that the study’s results, while useful for a number of reasons, do not fully reflect the percentage of the American population affected by diagnosable alcohol problems associated with heavy drinking and binge drinking.