Alcohol Problems on the Rise, Only 1 in 5 Adults Seek Help

A new study from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that the rate of problem drinking has increased over the past decade. Researchers found that 14% of American adults have an existing alcohol problem, while nearly 30% of Americans will have a problem with alcohol at some point in their lives. Data from the study suggests that only 20% of those individuals have sought help or treatment for the issue.

The findings were based on the American Psychiatric Association’s most recent definition of “alcohol issues,” which was updated in 2013 in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). In the previous edition (DSM-IV), alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence were classified separately and each had their own criteria. The new definition groups these two issues together under an alcohol use disorder (AUD) with differing levels of severity depending on how many of the disorder’s 11 criteria are present.

Alcohol and Crime

Rates of alcohol use disorder were found to be higher for men than women, higher in younger respondents, and higher in white and Native American respondents compared to other racial and ethnic groups. In addition, alcohol misuse that lasted longer than a year was linked to other substance abuse issues and antisocial behaviors. This is significant because while the DSM-5 removed alcohol-related legal problems (previously associated with abuse) as a criterion, many of the current indicators for AUD are associated with alcohol-related offenses, including:

  • Frequently drinking in situations where alcohol use is physically hazardous.
  • Experiencing social or interpersonal problems from alcohol use.
  • A failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home.

According to NIAAA Director George Koob, the results of the study “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.”