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'Hazardous Drinking' More Common Than Thought

Finnish study urges this 3rd category be added to diagnoses of alcohol disorders

FRIDAY, June 20 (HealthDay News) -- Hazardous drinking -- drinking more than guidelines recommend -- is common and needs to be recognized as a genuine public health problem, Finnish researchers say.

Currently, alcohol-use disorders are divided into two categories: alcohol abuse/harmful use and alcohol dependence. Some experts believe these two categories aren't sufficient and that hazardous drinking should be added as a diagnosis that precedes the other two.

"This is an issue that needs to be debated. Current tools... do not allow for a phenomenon like hazardous drinking, when a person drinks too much and is at risk but is not alcohol dependent," Dr. Mauri Aalto, chief physician at Finland's National Public Health Institute, said in a prepared statement.

Aalto and his colleagues analyzed data on 4,477 Finns, ages 30 to 64, who took part in a national health survey in 2000 and found the prevalence of hazardous drinking was 5.8 percent.

Men were defined as hazardous drinkers if they had 24 or more standard drinks a week during the preceding year, while women were hazardous drinkers if they had 16 or more standard drinks a week.

The study also found that hazardous drinking was more common among men, people older than 40, unemployed people versus the employed, and those who were cohabitating, divorced or separated, or unmarried.

The study was published online in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research and is expected to be in the September print issue. The findings support the view that hazardous drinking is a genuine public health issue, the researchers said.

"A hazardous drinker may see many other people around him or her drinking as much as him or herself," Aalto said. "This, together with not yet experiencing any alcohol-related harm, may lead the individual to wrongly think that there is no need to reduce drinking. However, hazardous drinkers do not include alcohol dependents, who usually drink a lot more. Alcohol-dependent drinkers already have significant alcohol-related harms, and it is more difficult for them to change their drinking habits."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about alcohol consumption.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, news release, June 17, 2008

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