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Most binge drinkers are not actually alcoholics

Binge drinking or alcoholism?
Difference between binge drinking and alcoholism 02:46

People who regularly have a few too many drinks don't necessarily meet the criteria for alcoholism, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The study finds that while 1 in 3 Americans drink excessively, they don't necessarily have an alcohol addiction.

"Definitely the most surprising aspect of the study was how many people drink excessively," CBS News medical contributor Dr. Holly Phillips told "CBS This Morning." "So excessive drinking is two things. It includes binge drinking, which is four or five [drinks at a sitting] for men. And it also includes heavy daily drinking: eight or more drinks [per week] for women or 15 for men. What the study pointed out though is that 90 percent of people who drink this way are not considered alcoholics."

For the study, researchers analyzed National Survey on Drug Use and Health data on drinking patterns from 2009 to 2011, which accounted for 138,100 adults.

The researchers found the prevalence of alcohol dependence was 10.2 percent among excessive drinkers, 10.5 percent among binge drinkers and 1.3 percent for non-binge drinkers.

Excessive drinking, binge drinking, and alcohol dependence were most common among men and those aged 18 to 24. Binge drinking was most common among higher income individuals -- $75,000 or more per household -- but alcohol dependence was more common among people with household income of less than $25,000.

Compassion in addiction treatment 02:30

Phillips said a person is considered an alcoholic when drinking interferes with their work or home life, damages important relationships and continues despite legal troubles and other serious consequences. "It also has to do with problems controlling your consumption. Sometimes people who start can't stop," she said.

Excessive drinking still raises the risk for a number of chronic and fatal diseases, even if the person isn't actually an alcoholic. There are some 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year linked to excessive binge drinking, including accidents and also illnesses such as heart disease, liver disease and breast cancer. "Women who drink alcohol are, in fact, more likely to get breast cancer than women who drink no alcohol," notes Phillips.

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