A new study has pointed out that heavy drinkers may cut their intake of alcohol over a period of time,yet they may not be able to go down to the level of the average adult.
Given that heavy drinkers often don't become "normal" drinkers on their own, the takeaway message for clinicians and family members is to help connect a problem drinker to a community social service agency or Alcoholics Anonymous.
Using a telephone-screening program, researchers identified 672 problem and dependent drinkers who had not been in an alcohol treatment program for at least 12 months.
Eleven years later, men in the study had reduced their average number of drinks per month by 51 percent, and women had reduced their average number of drinks by 57 percent.
However, even after this reduction, male and female problem drinkers still consumed 160 percent and 223 percent more alcohol, respectively, than the average adult without a drinking problem.
The researchers pointed out that the greatest reductions in alcohol consumption occurred within one to two years after the initial screening and then slowed, suggesting that problem drinkers and heavy drinkers may never lower their consumption to the level of the general population.
"Most heavy drinkers maintain a steady level of heavy alcohol consumption over time," said lead researcher Kevin L. Delucchi of the University of California.
"It's pretty toxic, but somehow they manage to keep drinking at a fairly sustained level. Our people were functional, for the most part. They had addresses, a lot of them had insurance at baseline, and they're not at the 'bottom of the barrel,' which is interesting," he said.
The researchers also examined the factors that appeared to be linked with continued heavy drinking.
Participants who received help from Alcoholics Anonymous or community social service agencies were likely to drink less.
However, those who had heavy-drinking friends in their social network, received general suggestions that they do something about their drinking, and went to a formal treatment program were actually likely to drink more.
The study appeared in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.