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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