Experts routinely spout that a glass of red wine each night is good for the heart. But what about seven glasses? And what if they’re spread over the course of two days? Is it still just as detrimental to your health? A new study published in the journal Addictive Behaviors outlines eight drinking patterns found in 177 heavy alcohol users that, if left unchecked, could quickly slide into full-blown alcoholism.
1. 3-4 Drinks, 2-3 Times per Week (Weekend)
Though the majority of the 19 people in this category had no alcohol-related problems, just over half suffered from a personality disorder of some type. Only one of the subjects said she was willing to change her behavior. Often this pattern of drinking precedes heavier drinking in varying contexts. As most of the group’s drinking took place on the weekend, it may have been largely social. A sign that social drinking may be turning into a coping mechanism is the transition to more regular drinking alone.
2. 3-4 Drinks, 2 Times per Week (Weekend-ish)
Most of the people in this group were young, white, and college-educated. They’re likely to be on the cusp of their thirties, if they’re even over the hump of 25. Drinking is still largely socially driven, and engaging in a period of intense drinking may not necessarily indicate a problem. However, as most of the 25 subjects were unwilling to change, the risk of dependence may grow with time.
3. 4-5 Drinks, 1-2 Times per Week (Weekends)
The risk of problem-drinking in these 28 people, most of whom were unmarried women, is decidedly reduced — but only to a point, as one extra drink led to 42 percent more feelings of unhappiness with drinking behavior. What was once celebratory and social in group 1 now seems more like disillusionment.
4. 4-5 Drinks, 1-2 Times per Week (Anytime)
By the CDC’s measure, groups 1-4 are the only ones that could fall outside binge drinking, namely for men. What’s more, the largest group of the study, at 39 participants, this cohort was the most likely to have an alcoholic father. Researchers speculated this fact may have compelled people to limit their drinking to just the one or two times a week. Unlike the previous group, however, these subjects didn’t limit their drinking to the weekends.
5. 5-6 Drinks, 3-4 Times per Week (Weekend-ish)
Though heavy users through and through, this group was the most hopeful of the eight. They were most likely to be taking meaningful steps toward breaking the habit — 57 percent had tried treatment — and half were in the highest “action” stage when it came to enacting change. Researchers found this pattern as the greatest tipping point for problem-drinking.
6. 7 Drinks, 4 Times per Week (Anytime)
This group contained 20 people, and roughly two-thirds of them identified as habitual users. Without any intervening efforts, in other words, their behavior would not stop — regardless of the fact that most of the people in the group said they were fully willing to change. None of these 20 people was married, and most (70 percent) were older white men.
7. 9-10 Drinks, 3-4 Times per Week (On/Off)
At nearly a dozen drinks in one sitting, repeated several times throughout the week, this group may seem like the most problematic. But the researchers at least partially defended the behavior, because the group was also the most ready to change. In spite of their heavy drug use, low employment rate (less than a third), greatest alcohol dependency, and the highest rate of alcohol-related problems, the group could at least acknowledge it needed a change.
8. 6-7 Drinks, 4 Times per Week (Throughout)
These subjects were essentially group 5, but past the tipping point. Characteristically unmarried older men, the group had a lifelong dependence on alcohol along with low employment rates, a bevy of alcohol-related problems, and worst of all, had no desire to change. They were the subjects that could benefit the most from professional help.
Source: Harrington M, Velicer W, Ramsey S. Typology of alcohol users based on longitudinal patterns of drinking. Addictive Behaviors. 2014.