The US Boozing Habit

Alcohol use disorder was common in US, but few diagnosed sought treatment

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Many people enjoy a drink on occasion to unwind or celebrate, but drinking to excess regularly may be a sign to seek help for an alcohol disorder.

A new study found that alcohol use disorder (AUD) was very common in the US, but many of those who had the disorder did not seek treatment.

"[AUD] is a highly [common and] disabling disorder that often goes untreated in the United States," wrote lead study author Bridget F. Grant, PhD, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Rockville, MD, and colleagues. "[AUDs] impair productivity and interpersonal functioning and place psychological and financial burdens on those who misuse alcohol, on their families, friends, and coworkers and ... on society as a whole."

Dr. Grant and team interviewed more than 30,000 adult patients from April 2012 through June 2013. They looked at these patients' backgrounds and the presence of certain criteria used to diagnose AUD.

AUD is alcohol consumption that becomes severe.

Dr. Grant and team found that 29 percent of these patients were at risk for lifetime AUD. This risk was determined by a patient meeting at least two criteria for AUD over any 12-month period during their lives.

Examples of this criteria included consuming more alcohol than intended, failing to meet obligations because of alcohol use, using alcohol when it may be physically hazardous and craving alcohol.

The risk of lifetime AUD was more common in men (at 36 percent) than women (at 23 percent), Dr. Grant and team found. Lifetime AUD risk was also more common in patients who were white (at 33 percent) or Native American (at 43 percent).

Younger patients between the ages of 18 and 29 and patients who were never married also had high rates of lifetime AUD risk (at 37 percent and 36 percent, respectively), Dr. Grant and colleagues found. Patients with low income were also 1.5 times more likely to be at risk for lifetime AUD compared with those with higher income.

Dr. Grant and team also found a link between lifetime AUD risk and an increased risk of other drug use, bipolar disorder, depression and other anxiety disorders.

Although these rates are considered high, Dr. Grant and team found that only 20 percent of these patients sought help or treatment. According to Dr. Grant and colleagues, people may not seek treatment due to fear of being labeled or the belief that treatment will not help.

Educating the public and policymakers about AUD and its treatment may be crucial for curbing AUD, Dr. Grant and team said.

"... this study highlighted the urgency of educating the public and policy makers about AUD and its treatments, destigmatizing the disorder, and encouraging among those who cannot reduce their alcohol consumption on their own, despite substantial harm to themselves and others, to seek treatment," Dr. Grant and colleagues wrote.

This study was published June 3 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
June 2, 2015
Last Updated:
June 9, 2015