1-in-8 Americans Has Alcohol Use Disorder, Finds NIAAA Study
A new study published this month in JAMA Psychiatry found that as many as one-in-eight Americans may qualify as having an alcohol use disorder. Researchers also found that the sharpest increases in abuse were found among African Americans, women, and older adults.
From the study:
“These increases constitute a public health crisis that may have been overshadowed by increases in much less prevalent substance use (marijuana, opiates, and heroin) during the same period.”
The study followed the drinking patterns of 40,000 subjects from 2002-2003, and then again from 2012-2013 to create a long-term image of their habits. The results were more than surprising.
In general, alcohol use disorders increased by nearly 50% – affecting about 8.5 percent of the population during the first study period, and 12.7 percent during the second period. That’s nearly 30 million persons in the United States actively engaging in alcohol misuse in the past 12 months.
Researchers also found that overall, the rate of alcohol use in the U.S. was 65% in 2001-2002. By 2012-2013, it was nearly 73%.
According to the study, alcohol use disorders nearly doubled (93 percent) among African Americans, and rose to almost 85 percent among women.
Startlingly, however, the group that experienced the highest increase in alcohol use disorders was senior citizens.
Persons 65 and above revealed a jaw-dropping 107 percent increase in alcohol abuse between the two study periods. Also, alcohol abuse in those aged 45-65 increased by more than 81 percent.
Also, stark increases were found among individuals with a lower educational level and family income.
From the study:
“Most important, the findings…highlight the urgency of educating the public, policymakers, and health care professionals about high-risk drinking and [alcohol use disorders], destigmatizing these conditions and encouraging those who cannot reduce their alcohol consumption on their own..to seek treatment.”
Other Commentary and Rebuttal
Dr. Marc Schuckit, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, penned an editorial published alongside the new research. He stated that the “remarkable” increase in alcohol abuse is related to the opioid crisis:
“[This study] reminds us that the chilling increases in opioid-related deaths reflect a broader issue regarding additional substance-related problems.”
In response to the research, the Distilled Spirits Council stated that an annual national survey recently revealed a steady decrease in alcohol use disorder since 1988. Sam Zakhari, senior vice president of science, had this to say:
“While any amount of alcohol abuse is too much, the claims published in JAMA Psychiatry do not comport with findings of the National Survey on Drug Use and Health…The NSDUH shows a decline in alcohol use disorders among all age groups.”
On Alcohol Use Disorder
Alcohol use disorder is defined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a condition that combines both factors of alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. These criteria include:
- Drinking habits that interfere with critical responsibilities, such as those involving job or family.
- Drinking habits that increase the chance of exposure to danger or injury, repeated use in hazardous situations.
- Continued use despite experienced consistent social and interpersonal problems related to excessive alcohol use.
- Withdrawal symptoms that manifest upon cessation of use.
- The inability to stop drinking, despite efforts to cut down or control use.
- Alcohol is consumed in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Considerable time is spent around activities needed to obtain, use, and recover from alcohol.
- Cravings for alcohol.
- Formerly important or enjoyable activities (i.e. sports) are neglected or given up due to alcohol use.
- Alcohol use persists despite knowledge of having a consistent physical or psychological problem that is likely caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
- Increasing tolerance – more alcohol is needed to achieve the same effect.
The presence of just two or more criteria indicates an alcohol use disorder. Six or more indicates the disorder is severe.
Alongside alcohol abuse, researchers also studied high-risk drinking, which was defined as four or more drinks per day for women and five for men, plus one day per week that exceeds those limits.
According to the study, the prevalence of “high-risk” drinking has risen on pace with alcohol abuse, increased by nearly 30% from 9.7 percent of the population (20 million people) in 2002 to 2003 to 12.6 percent (30 million people) in 2012-2013.
The research was conducted by investigators from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the New York State Psychiatric Institute and Columbia University. Findings relied heavily on the strictly controlled self-reporting of drinking habits. Reasons for the massive increases remain unclear.
~ G. Nathalee Serrels, M.A., Psychology