Many people believe that heavy or problem drinking1 leads to alcoholism or alcohol dependence.2 Researchers tested this idea. They found that most heavy drinkers consume less alcohol over time.
First, researchers found problem drinkers through telephone screening. It was in northern California. Then they made in-person interviews with 672 people.
The mean age of the sample was 35 years, 61% were male, 71% were white. And 40% were married. Researchers followed the sample 11 years.
Drinking declined on average from four down to two drinks per day for men. It declined from two down to one per day for women. Also, about 10% became non-drinkers.
But Some Increased Their Drinking
Any of the following were associated with an increase in alcohol consumption.
Being part of a group of heavy drinkers.
Receiving suggestions to get help for their drinking.
Getting treatment for alcoholism.
Research has widely shown the poor results generally from alcoholism treatment. For example, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) reports a success rate of about 5% with its 12 steps. Doing nothing is usually more effective than attending AA. However, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy shows high rates of bringing about continuing sobriety.
Other Alternatives for Help
There are also many free or inexpensive non-12-step programs. They include these.
HAMS Harm Reduction for Alcohol & Drugs.
Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS): Save Our Selves.
SMART Recovery: Self-Management and Recovery Training.
Resources: Heavy Drinkers Consume Less Alcohol over Time
Delucchi, K., Following problem drinkers over eleven years. J Stud Alco Drugs, 2010, 71(6), 831-836.
1. Problem drinking was defined as having at least two of these.
An alcohol-related negative social consequence.
A symptom of alcohol dependence.
Heavy drinking (5 drinks daily for men. Or 3 drinks daily for women).
2. This is a central belief of AA.