“We’re on the cusp of some major advances in how we conceptualize alcoholism,” says Dr. Mark Willenbring, director of treatment and recovery research at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The institute is the nation’s leading authority on alcoholism and the major provider of funds for alcohol research. “The focus now is on the large group of people who are not yet dependent. But they are at risk for developing dependence.”

Many of these people need not give up alcohol altogether. The concept of so-called controlled drinking — that people with alcohol-use disorders could simply curb, or control, their drinking — has existed for many years. Evidence now exists that such an approach is possible for some people, although abstinence is still considered necessary for those with the most severe disease…

Perhaps the most remarkable finding of the epidemiologic study was how many Americans experienced an alcohol-use disorder (either abuse or the more severe dependence) at some point — and how many recovered on their own. About 30% of Americans had experienced a disorder, the research showed, but about 70% of those quit drinking or cut back to safe consumption patterns without treatment after four years or less.