CHICAGO (AP) — More than 30 percent of American adults have abused alcohol or struggled with 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 age 30 — eight years after they developed dependence on drinking, researchers reported.
“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 lower than the rate found 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 doesn’t 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.
Three common approaches to treating alcoholism are 12-step programs, cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy. Medications such as Antabuse, naltrexone and Campral also can help in combination with counseling, Dr. Willenbring said.
“The important thing is to engage with treatment and stick with it,” he 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 American Indians were more likely than other ethnic groups to report drinking problems.
Alcohol abuse was defined as drinking-related failure to fulfill 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 center or through an employee-assistance program.
The study, appearing in yesterday’s Archives of General Psychiatry, was based on a new analysis of the 2001-02 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions.