Are 1 in 3 Americans Really Drinking Excessive Amounts of Alcohol?

Yesterday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a new study showing that one in three U.S. adults drinks “excessively.” The new report has created lots of worrying headlines, but are we really a nation of chronic over-indulgers?

The CDC’s definition for “excessive drinking”:

  • Eight or more drinks per week for women—Just over a single glass of wine or beer per day.
  • 15 or more drinks per week for men—Just over two glasses of wine or beer per day.
  • Any drinking at all for pregnant women or those under 21.

Compare this to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Dietary Guidelines:

  • Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation—defined as the consumption of up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.
  • Alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects when consumed in moderation. Strong evidence from observational studies has shown that moderate alcohol consumption is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Moderate alcohol consumption also is associated with reduced risk of all-cause mortality among middle-aged and older adults and may help to keep cognitive function intact with age.

Essentially, there’s not much difference in what the CDC calls “excessive” drinking and what the FDA calls sensible and moderate.

The study concludes that while 33 percent of adults might drink excessively, most aren’t alcoholics—only about 10  percent of those “excessive drinkers” are alcohol dependent. The authors argue that since addiction treatment services aren’t necessary for most “excessive” drinkers, the U.S. should adopt policies such as higher alcohol taxes and alcohol outlet density to cut down on alcohol consumption.

We should do as much as possible to ensure alcohol dependent individuals receive the treatment they need. Enacting policies to cut down on moderate drinking? That’s what’s really “excessive.”