To have a predisposition towards alcoholism doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll go through life running from a looming death sentence, or some kind of prescient threat that will always manage to find you. Indeed, many individuals live natural, healthy lives without ever having to face an Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), the medical diagnosis for problem drinking that causes mild to severe distress or harm. However, the reality is that many still do, and worse, they aren’t getting help for their problem. According to a new study published in JAMA Psychiatry, and supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), which is an arm of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “nearly one-third of adults in the United States have an AUD at some time in their lives, but only 20 percent seek AUD treatment.” In particular, researchers have noticed a marked increase in AUDs over the last decade. What could be the reason? On the positive side, having the data could mean more individuals are seeking help, or are open to acknowledging and discussing their problem. However, if only 20 percent of men and women are seeking AUD treatment at any given time, this means there is a vast majority (how vast, we might never know) suffering in silence.
According to NIAAA Director George F. Koob, Ph.D.:
“These findings underscore that alcohol problems are deeply entrenched and significantly under-treated in our society. The new data should provide further impetus for scientists, clinicians, and policy makers to bring AUD treatment into the mainstream of medical practice.”
To conduct the study, researchers, led by Bridget F. Grant, Ph.D., of the NIAAA Division of Biometry and Epidemiology, interviewed more than 36,000 U.S. adults via face-to-face surveys as part of a larger question on the co-occurrence of alcohol use, drug use, and psychiatric conditions for the 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions III (NESARC-III). We’ll pare it down and skip to the part where the survey inadvertently revealed that 13.9 percent of adults met AUD criteria for the previous year, while 29.1 percent of adults met the criteria for AUD at some time in their life. Of the latter 10,5000 adults, only about 2,000 ever attempted to seek out treatment. The rates were even less for those suffering from AUD over the past 12-month period.
The data also shows that “rates of AUD were greater among men than women, and that the age was inversely related to past-year AUD diagnosis. Among adults ages 18 and 29, more than 7 percent had an AUD within the past year, suggesting a need for more effective prevention and intervention efforts among young people.” It’s not surprising when you consider the prevalence of drinking within the U.S. among people aged 18 or older—according to the NIH stats page, in 2013, 86.8 percent of those 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70.7 percent reported that they drank in the past year; 56.4 percent reported that they drank in the past month.
In 2013 alone, 16.6 million adults ages 18 and older had an AUD—approximately 10.8 million men and 5.8 million women. Now that we know only a fraction of these actually ever got help, the question that needs to be asked is what happened to the other 90-plus percentile? Whether it be a case of poverty, stigma, availability of beds, legal barriers, or a lack of information on where to find a treatment facility, all of these issues are easily fixable, and in many ways are in the process of undergoing change. Perhaps this study, in combination with the recent rise in interest from politicians bidding for the 2016 Presidential Candidacy, will help to finally put drug abuse on track to be heavily diluted, if not completely wiped out.