About 30 percent of adults in the United States misuse alcohol at some point in their lives, but the large majority don’t seek treatment, a new study suggests.
Researchers also found that in a given year, about 14 percent of American adults misuse alcohol, which researchers refer to as having “alcohol use disorder.” This yearly rate translates to an estimated 32.6 million Americans with drinking problems during a 12-month period.
“The study found that the risk of alcohol use disorders appears to be going up in the last decade,” said George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the agency that conducted the research.
Not only is problem drinking becoming more widespread, but the intensity of drinking is also going up, Koob said. Instead of having three drinks on a night out, more people may be drinking heavily and having at least five, or even eight or 10 drinks at a time.
“Alcohol use disorder” is a relatively new term. Prior to May 2013, people who had drinking problems were diagnosed with either “alcohol abuse” or “alcohol dependence.”
Now, rather than categorizing these problems as two separate conditions, the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” (American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013) considers the two a single diagnosis known as “alcohol use disorder.” A person with the disorder is further classified as having a mild, moderate or severe form of the condition, based on the number of symptoms the individual has. [7 Ways Alcohol Affects Your Health]
Adults who meet at least two of the 11 diagnostic criteria are considered as having an alcohol use disorder. Criteria include having strong cravings for alcohol, making unsuccessful efforts to cut down consumption and drinking causing problems at work, home or school.
The results, published online today (June 3) in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, are the first to estimate nationwide prevalence rates for alcohol misuse since the diagnostic criteria were changed.