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May 16th, 2012
06:50 AM ET

Are 40% of college students alcoholics? CNN's Alina Cho on how a definition change could change the way we view addiction

We could see the number of college students considered alcoholics hit 40%, but not because more kids are drinking heavily. Psychiatrists and specialists are literally redefining the term alcoholic.

In new guidelines due to be released in a year, you could be considered an alcoholic. And you're not alone.

In fact, 20 million "more" Americans could be diagnosed as having some sort of addiction. That amounts to about 60% of the country and addictions could include drugs, alcohol, shopping or gambling.

The new guidelines are included in a revision of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM. That's the nation's arbiter of mental illness - the so-called psychiatric "bible."

Currently, there are two ways of categorizing drug and alcohol problems. One is as "substance abuse," referring to a short-term problem that includes binge drinking in college. The other is "substance dependence," meaning a long-term problem like alcoholism.

Under the new guidelines, there is only one diagnosis for addiction but with varying degrees – mild, moderate or severe.

A big reason why more will diagnosed is that doctors are "adding" to the list of symptoms of addiction while at the same time "reducing" the number of symptoms needed for a diagnosis. This could mean millions more people could be labeled addicts, even without picking up another drink.

Why is this so important? It's the standard the government embraces, and it also dictates whether health insurers, like Medicare and Medicaid, will pay for treatment.

Learn more from Alina Cho's report in the video above.

Filed under: Alcoholism • College • DSM
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. Jordan

    Alcohol poisoning is more frequent with college & university students as well. Mostly because of party drinking games.

    August 17, 2012 at 3:02 am | Reply
  2. Amy

    I think that this is too far fetched. First of all the drinking has to consume the persons life and daily function for them even to be considered and alcoholic. I think they need to really careful about this revamp it could cause a lot of unnecessary labeling.

    May 20, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
    • Amanda

      Hi again Experiences´╗┐ of my own and friends and falimy throughout decades tells me that you're not an alcoholic. You're a binge drinker and binge drinking is different from being alcoholic. Alcoholics conduct stable lives, somewhat withdrawn from others, but stable jobs, often stable families, and riskfree lifestyles. Binge drinkers on the other hand are the cause of car accidents and exhibit highrisk behavior and have difficulty holding jobs. The cause has nothing to do with alcohol alone!

      July 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm | Reply
  3. Nick

    Bizarrely, there is something false in almost every sentence. Here are my polite criticisms by sentence.
    1) The figure "40%" is not cited anywhere and I have no reason whatsoever to believe its accuracy.
    2) Psychiatrists are not "literally" redefining the term alcoholic. Neither alcoholic, nor alcoholism, nor addiction are terms in the DSM. Please please please learn what literally means.
    3) Again, the DSM does not prescribe alcoholism.
    4) More making up stats.
    5) Where did you hear this about shopping? It's wrong by the way. Which is really disappointing given that all the proposed changes to the DSM are posted on http://www.dsm5.org/. You wouldn't have even had to try that hard.
    6 and 7) Congratulations! These are not incorrect statements.
    8) Good job again! There are two ways! Unfortunately:
    9 and 10) These are a completely inaccurate description of them. Where did you get these?
    11) This is correct. If I were you I would have made the point that dimensional rather than categorical constructs better represent scientific findings, but this is not really the point of this list of criticisms.
    12 and 13) You might not have noticed, but you need to meet the same number of criteria for DSM-IV "Substance Abuse" as you do to meet DSM-5 "Mild Substance Use Disorder." So not necessarily the case that more people would be diagnosed.
    The rest is a good reason to care about the DSM. However, insurance ultimately decides which disorders are covered and for which treatments.

    Now for critiques of the video:
    1) The blackout thing was already true. You would qualify for DSM-IV Substance Abuse.

    Ultimately, this is not only a huge disappointment of laziness and/or incompetence, but providing this kind of misinformation is incredibly harmful to our people. Please stop.

    May 17, 2012 at 3:20 am | Reply
  4. Frederick Rucker

    With numbers like that, what kind of numbers are entering the work force?

    May 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Joan

      Have you read the´╗┐ big book and do you understand the prneiiplcs behind it? Faith without works is dead is what the Big Book of AA says (I know so does the Bible lol). I can trust in a higher power if I want to. I am free to do that. I am also going to work to adapt and modify my behavior. Just because you trust in god or a higher power does not mean you can stop taking responsibility for yourself. I think it's kind of rude to tell someone what they believe in is crap.

      July 27, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply

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