The 'almost alcoholic'

Expert focuses on the range between normal use and alcoholism diagnosis


It's believed 33 percent of all Americans misuse alcohol resulting in 85,000 preventable deaths a year.

So, how much do you drink? While you might not be one of the millions of alcoholics in the U.S., you could be one of the millions of almost alcoholics.

Many think it's black and white, but Harvard psychiatrist Robert Doyle believes there's a big grey area.

"We're seeing alcohol problems as a spectrum," explained Doyle, the co-author of Almost Alcoholic.

The alcoholism expert is focusing on the zone between normal use and alcoholism diagnosis; the so-called almost alcoholic range. Here, the risk of things like insomnia, diabetes and cancer can increase.

"You don't have to be alcoholic to have major problems with alcohol," Doyle said. "That's that fuzzy area that's really hard to define."

Brenda Wilhelmson believes she was an almost alcoholic.

"It turned into a way that I rewarded myself at the end of the day, and it just escalated from there," said Wilhelmson. "I was basically drinking myself to sleep every night."

She can pinpoint the exact moment she crossed the line to full-blown alcoholic.

"I could have gone either way that night, and I just went for it," she said.

Doyle believes millions who become addicted pass through the almost alcoholic phase, and he thinks a lot can stop the problem there.

"We're not trying to put labels on people. In fact, we're trying to prevent people from getting the label of a very serious condition," said Doyle.

Do an honest assessment by asking yourself things like: is alcohol affecting my sleep? Do I depend on alcohol to de-stress? Am I drinking to help deal with a medical problem? If you feel you might be heading toward a problem, try cutting back.

Doyle recommends, "If you're having four beers on Friday night, see how you do with two beers."

Small changes could make a big difference in where you end up on this spectrum.

TheAlmostEffect.com has more on Doyle's book Almost Alcoholic and allows you to  take a self-assessment of your own drinking habits.