August 2015

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Increases in Problem Drinking

Alcohol use disorder is becoming more common, a new study found, but few people seek treatment. The findings highlight the need to better educate people about problem drinking and its treatment.

Alcohol use disorder, or AUD, is the clinical term for problem drinking that causes mild to severe harm or distress. Excessive drinking can interfere with work, school, and relationships. It also raises the risk of many ailments, including heart disease, high blood pressure, liver disease, depression, and some cancers.

Doctors diagnose AUD using guidelines that were updated in 2013. The new guidelines combined 2 different disorders—alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence—into the single disorder of AUD.

A team led by NIH’s Dr. Bridget F. Grant wanted to find out how many Americans would be diagnosed with AUD based on the new guidelines. They conducted face-to-face interviews with over 36,000 U.S. adults.

They found that about 14% of the adults met the criteria for having AUD within the previous year. Almost 1 in 3 people they interviewed had AUD at some time in their lives. Of these, only about 20% sought treatment or help for their AUD.

Problem drinking was more common in men than in women. It was also more common in young adults than in older adults.

“These findings underscore that alcohol problems are deeply entrenched and significantly under-treated in our society,” says NIAAA Director Dr. George F. Koob. “The new data should provide further impetus for scientists, clinicians, and policymakers to bring AUD treatment into the mainstream of medical practice.”