More than 30 percent of American adults have abused alcohol or
suffered from alcoholism at some point in their lives, and few have
received treatment, according to a new government study.
Alcoholics who got treatment first received it, on average, at about 30 - eight years after they developed dependence on drinking,
Most received no treatment
"That's a big lag," especially combined with the fact that only 24
percent of alcoholics reported receiving any treatment at all, said
study co-author Bridget Grant of the National Institute on Alcohol
Abuse and Alcoholism.
The treatment rate for alcoholics was slightly less than the rate
of a decade earlier. The study did not look at reasons for the
decline, but other research has revealed a belief among doctors and the
public that treatment does not work.
However, Dr. Mark Willenbring, director of the institute's Division
of Treatment and Recovery Research, said evidence indicates that
substance-abuse treatment is more effective than treatments for many
Sticking with treatment
Three common approaches to treating alcoholism are 12-step programs,
cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational enhancement therapy.
Medications such as Antabuse, naltrexone and Campral also can help in
combination with counselling, he said.
"The important thing is to engage with treatment and stick with it,"
About 42 percent of men and about 19 percent of women reported a
history of either alcohol abuse or alcoholism during their lives.
Whites and Native Americans were more likely than other ethnic groups
to report drinking problems.
Alcohol abuse was defined as drinking-related failure to fulfil
major obligations at work, school or home; social or legal problems;
and drinking in hazardous situations. Alcoholism was characterized by
compulsive drinking; preoccupation with drinking; and tolerance to
alcohol or withdrawal symptoms.
The definitions were based on the American Psychiatric Association's
Treatment, in the study's definition, could have been by a doctor or
another health professional, in a 12-step program, at a crisis centre
or through an employee-assistance program.
The study, appearing in Monday's Archives of General Psychiatry, was
based on a new analysis of the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey
on Alcohol and Related Conditions. The survey involved more than 43,000
face-to-face interviews with a representative sample of Americans,
18 and older.
A previous report on the same data found that 4.7 percent of adults
reported alcohol abuse in 2001-2002, and 3.8 percent reported
The new analysis was the first to report on the prevalence of
alcohol problems over a lifetime.
The study was funded by the New York State Psychiatric Institute and
the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of
the National Institutes of Health.
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