WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Nearly one-third of Americans are problem drinkers of alcohol, with the overwhelming majority of those misusing alcohol not seeking any kind of treatment.

A new study supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) finds that about 14 percent of U.S. adults misuse alcohol, while nearly 30 percent of Americans meet standards for an alcohol use disorder. An estimated 32.6 million Americans were found to have had drinking problems within a 12-month period.

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

The team of researchers led by Dr. Bridget F. Grant conducted more than 36,000 face-to-face interviews of U.S. adults as part of the 2012-13 National Epidemiology Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions – a continuance of the largest-ever study conducted on alcohol and drug abuse’s effect on mental health.

The researchers found that fewer than one-in-five U.S. adults seek Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) treatment amid significant increases in AUDs nationwide over the past decade. Additionally, the researchers found that the intensity of drinking is increasing, with more people having at least five, eight or ten drinks in one sitting.

“We found that 13.9 percent of adults met DSM-5 AUD criteria for the previous year, while 29.1 percent met AUD criteria at some time in their life,” said Grant. “Only 19.8 percent of adults with lifetime alcohol use disorder sought treatment or help, while 7.7 percent of those with a 12-month alcohol use disorder sought treatment. Perhaps most importantly, we saw large increases in DSM-IV alcohol use disorder rates over the last decade.”

Criteria for an AUD include having strong cravings for alcohol, making unsuccessful attempts to cut back on drinking, and alcohol use causing problems at home, work or school.

Rates of AUD were greater among men than women, with more than 7 percent of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 having alcohol abuse problems within the past year. The researchers suggest more effective prevention and intervention efforts among young people – and to destigmatize alcohol disorders. Whites and Native Americans were at the greatest risk of developing drinking problems and those who misuse alcohol were more likely to suffer from major depression, bipolar disorder and personality disorders.

The latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) combines the previously separate diagnoses of “alcohol abuse” and “alcohol dependence” into the single designation of an “alcohol use disorder.”

The NIAAA reports that alcohol contributes to more than 200 diseases including cancers, liver problems and increased exposure to accidental injuries.

“This study is shining a light on a serious problem that many Americans might not realize is there,” Koob said.

Benjamin Fearnow

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