Do You Drink Too Much? Don’t Ask the CDC.

Does your doctor nag you about your drinking?
The federal government wishes he would. Yesterday the U.S. Centers
for Disease Control and Prevention
noted with alarm
 that “only one in six adults [says] a
health professional has ever discussed alcohol use with them.”
Physicians’ reluctance to broach the subject is especially
worrisome, the CDC says, because “at least 38 million adults in the
United States drink too much.”

How does the CDC know at least 38 million Americans drink too
much? Because survey
indicate that “approximately one in six (38
million) U.S. adults binge drink.” And what counts as binge
drinking, as far as the CDC is concerned? Five or more drinks “on
an occasion” for men and four or more drinks for women. Why were
those cutoffs chosen? According to the
National Insitute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
, because
those are the amounts that typically raise a person’s blood alcohol
concentration to 0.08 percent, which corresponds to the per se
legal standard for driving while intoxicated.

What if you don’t plan to drive? It doesn’t matter. The federal
government says you should never drink that amount, period. If you
do, you are drinking too much by definition (the government’s
definition, that is). As I have noted

, the government’s notion of a binge encompasses common
patterns of social drinking that cause no measurable harm to anyone
or anything, except for the CDC’s sensibilities—e.g., an after-work
cocktail, followed by wine during dinner with friends and an
after-dinner drink. I confess I have been known to binge in this
manner from time to time. Once a month is all it takes to be
counted among the 38 million, the vast majority of whom would not
qualify for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence or even alcohol abuse
but who nevertheless need to change their ways, according to the

Why does the CDC say “at least 38 million” Americans
drink too much? Because it maintains that
“drinking too much” includes not just so-called binge drinking but
several other categories as well. If you are a man who consumes 15
or more drinks in a week or a woman who consumes eight or more, you
drink too much. Ditto if you are pregnant or younger than 21 and
drink any amount at all. The CDC does not want to hear
about how you limit yourself to no more than two drinks every day
except Saturday, when you have three, thereby exceeding the
government’s arbitrary limit. Nor does the CDC care that you think
18-to-20-year-olds, who are legally adults in every other respect,
should be allowed to drink beer. And don’t even try to point out
the lack of
that light to moderate drinking during pregancy harms
fetuses. The CDC has decreed that all these patterns of drinking
are excessive, and its only challenge now is convincing the rest of

That may be a tough sell. All together, the CDC says,
“29% of U.S. adults drink too much.” Based on data from the
Health Interview Survey
, that means nearly half of all
Americans who drink at all, and most (about 60 percent) of those
who drink at least once a month, drink too much. Among past-month
drinkers, according to the CDC, excessive consumption is the

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