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Most Problem Drinkers Aren’t Actually Alcoholics, Study Finds

When people hear the term “problem drinker,” they probably also think of the term “alcoholic.”

However, out of the 38 million US adults who drink too much, most of them are not alcoholics, according to a new “Vital Signs” report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“For every one person who is alcoholic there are about six who are problem drinkers, drinking enough to adversely affect their lives, their health, their work situation or family situation,” CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden said.

drinking alcoholWhile they may not be alcoholics, three-quarters of Americans who drink too much are considered “binge drinkers,” including men who consume more than four alcoholic drinks in one sitting and women who consume more than three.

Excessive drinking can also include “high average drinkers.” This includes men who consume more than an average of two drinks per day or 14 per week and women who average more than one drink per day or seven per week.

The CDC estimates that excess drinking causes 88,000 U.S. deaths each year and costs the economy more than $220 billion in addition to contributing to numerous social and chronic health problems.

But the CDC report also points out that brief screenings and interventions by health care professionals could go a long way in reducing the numbers of problem drinkers. Even a doctor, nurse or other caregiver spending five minutes with a patient to ask about the patient’s alcohol consumption can help. Discussing what the patient wants to do in the future and recommending guidelines for the patient to follow are also helpful.

“It should be a routine part of patient care,” Frieden said. “In the same way we screen patients for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we should be screening for excess alcohol use and then responding appropriately.”

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