05 July 2007

Drinking problem in US

More than 30 percent of American adults have abused alcohol or suffered from alcoholism and few have received treatment, according to a new government study.


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, researchers reported.

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 medical disorders.

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," Willenbring said.

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 diagnostic manual.

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.

Representative sample
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 alcoholism.

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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July 2007


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