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J Stud Alcohol Drugs. 2014 Mar;75(2):319-27.

Risks of alcohol use disorders related to drinking patterns in the U.S. general population.

Author information

Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Emeryville, California, Department of Psychiatry, Clinical Services Research Training Program, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California.
Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Emeryville, California.
Alcohol Research Group, Public Health Institute, Emeryville, California, School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California.
Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina.
Division of Treatment and Recovery Research, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, Bethesda, Maryland.
Perelman School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.



The purpose of this study was to examine the relations between drinking (mean quantity and heavy drinking patterns) and alcohol use disorders (AUDs) in the U.S. general population.


Data from three telephone National Alcohol Surveys (in 2000, 2005, and 2010) were pooled, with separate analyses for men and women restricted to current drinkers (ns = 5,922 men, 6,270 women). Predictors were 12-month volume (mean drinks per day), rates of heavy drinking (5+/4+ drinks in a day for men/women), and very heavy drinking (8+, 12+, and 24+ drinks in a day). Outcomes were negative alcohol-related consequences constituting abuse (1+ of 4 DSM-IV-based domains assessed by 13 items) and alcohol dependence (symptoms in 3+ of 7 DSM-IV-based domains), together taken to indicate an AUD. Segmentation analyses were used to model risks of problem outcomes from drinking patterns separately by gender.


In the general population, men and women who consumed ≤1 drink/day on average with no heavy drinking days did not incur substantial risks of an AUD (<10%). Men who drank from 1 to 2 drinks/day on average but never 5+ incurred a 16% risk of reporting an AUD (3.5% alcohol dependence). At higher volumes, men and women who indicated higher rates of drinking larger amounts per day and/or involving 8+ and 12+ drinks/day (and even 24+ drinks/day for men) showed much higher risks of experiencing AUDs.


The findings provide quantitative guidance for primary care practitioners who wish to make population-based recommendations to patients who might benefit by reducing both overall intake and amounts per occasion in an effort to lower their risks of developing AUDs.

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