Many American adults have alcoholism but are not treated

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In a recent study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers found that although the vast majority of people with alcohol use disorder see their doctors regularly for a range of issues, fewer than one in 10 ever get treatment for drinking.

The study is from Washington University in St. Louis. One author is Carrie M. Mintz, MD.

Some 16 million Americans are believed to have alcohol use disorder, and an estimated 93,000 people in the U.S. die from alcohol-related causes each year.

Both of those numbers are expected to grow as a result of heavier drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the study, the team used data from more than 200,000 people with and without alcohol problems.

They found that about 8% of those surveyed met the current criteria for alcohol use disorder, the medical diagnosis for those with an addiction to alcohol.

Of these people who met the criteria, 81% had received medical care in a doctor’s office or spent time in a hospital or clinic during the previous year.

But only 12% reported they had been advised to cut down on their drinking, 5% were offered information about treatment, and 6% received treatment, some of whom were not referred by their doctors but sought out treatment on their own.

Although most people with alcohol use disorder had access to health care and although 70% reported they had been asked about alcohol use, that’s where the care stopped.

The team says some primary care doctors may not feel comfortable telling patients they should cut down on drinking, prescribing medication to help them cut back or referring them to treatment because they don’t specialize in treating alcohol misuse; but the result is that many people who need treatment aren’t getting it.

Among treatments that could be prescribed are the FDA-approved medications naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram, as well as psychotherapy and mutual-aid approaches, such as the 12-step program used by Alcoholics Anonymous.

The team says alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease, but compared to other chronic diseases, it’s wildly untreated.

For example, two-thirds of patients with HIV and 94% of patients with diabetes receive treatment, compared with only 6% of people with alcohol use disorder.

The researchers noted that during the pandemic, alcohol sales in the U.S. increased by 34%.

Consequently, they expect that as the country emerges from COVID-19 and returns to normal, the number of people with alcohol use disorder will have climbed.

If you care about alcoholism, please read studies about moderate alcohol drinking linked to high blood pressure and findings of Alzheimer’s drug may reverse brain damage from alcohol drinking.

For more information about alcohol and your health, please see recent studies about which came first: brain shrinking or alcohol drinking? and results showing that alcohol drinking linked to dementia risk.

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