Research on Alcoholism Shows an Alarming Trend
Alcoholism, also called alcohol use disorder, has been on the rise in adults in the USA. A recent study published in the JAMA Psychiatry indicates that the rate of alcohol use disorder rose by 49 percent in the first decade of the 2000s. To put this in perspective one in eight American adults, or 12.7 percent of the U.S. population, now meets diagnostic criteria for alcohol use disorder, according to their findings. These are staggering statistics.
People often associate alcoholism as something that can wreck a person’s life by causing work issues, family issues, and social problems but there is an array of health problems associated with alcoholic drinking such as “fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, stroke, liver cirrhosis, several types of cancer and infections, pancreatitis, type 2 diabetes, and various injuries.” And while opioid and opiate overdose and deaths dominate the headlines these days, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 88,000 people a year die of alcohol-related causes, more than twice the annual death toll of opiate overdose.
Who Is Considered An Alcoholic?
The study’s data comes from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a nationally representative survey administered by the National Institutes of Health. Survey respondents were considered to have alcohol use disorder if they met widely used diagnostic criteria for either alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence.
For a diagnosis of alcohol abuse, an individual must have exhibited at least one of the following characteristics in the past year:
- Recurrent use of alcohol resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home (e.g., repeated absences or poor work performance related to alcohol use; alcohol-related absences, suspensions, or expulsions from school; neglect of children or household).
- Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous (e.g., driving an automobile or operating a machine when impaired by alcohol use).
- Recurrent alcohol-related legal problems (e.g., arrests for alcohol-related disorderly conduct).
- Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems.
For a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, an individual must experience at least three of the following seven symptoms:
- Need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or desired effect; or markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
- The characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol; or drinking (or using a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.
- Drinking in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
- Persistent desire or one or more unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control drinking.
- Important social, occupational, or recreational activities given up or reduced because of drinking.
- A great deal of time spent in activities necessary to obtain, to use, or to recover from the effects
Theories About The Rising Numbers And Treatment For Alcoholism
“I think the increases are due to stress and despair and the use of alcohol as a coping mechanism,” said the study’s lead author, Bridget Grant, a researcher at the National Institutes of Health. The study notes that the increases in alcohol use disorder were “much greater among minorities than among white individuals,” likely reflecting widening social inequalities after the 2008 recession.
“If we ignore these problems, they will come back to us at much higher costs through emergency department visits, impaired children who are likely to need care for many years for preventable problems, and higher costs for jails and prisons that are the last resort for help for many,” University of California at San Diego psychiatrist Marc Schuckit said.
While the rise in alcoholism is alarming the solution is always the same. We need better education to avoid it, to recognize the signs and symptoms and also viable treatment. Sometimes participation in free, confidential support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous is enough to help someone stop drinking and turn their life around. Others respond well to one on one or group counseling and still others may be in need of detox and in-patient treatment. The first step, of course, is admitting a problem exists and reaching out for guidance.
If you or a loved one is dealing with a drinking problem reach out to an organization in your community that specializes in help for alcoholics and addiction, or call your insurance company for a referral. Our National Addiction Hotline is always here to provide guidance and assistance in determining treatment options as well.
See our report on The Periodic Alcoholic