An estimated 16 million people in the United States suffer from alcohol use disorder (AUD), and the vast majority are not getting the care they need. An estimated 93,000 Americans lose their lives annually because of alcohol-related causes.

Alcohol Use Disorder Still Severely Undertreated in the U.S.
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In spite of the fact that many people with AUD experience related health problems, for which many visit a physician, still less than 10 percent get treatment for alcohol abuse. This finding was made by researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Compared to other chronic disorders, alcohol use disorder is notably untreated. For example, two-thirds of people with HIV and 94% of people with diabetes obtain treatment.

What the Research Tells us About AUD

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses (DSM-5) is the official standard for diagnosing mental disorders in the United States. Researchers discovered that roughly 8% of the individuals polled from 2015 to 2019 fit the current criteria for alcohol use disorder.

While 81% of respondents who fulfilled the DSM-5 criteria for AUD had sought treatment from a doctor or hospital in the preceding year, just 12% of those said they had been told to cut down on their drinking. Five percent said they had been given information on therapy and only 6% of those said they had gotten it. Little effort toward follow-up was made, even though most patients with alcohol use disorder had access to healthcare and 70% stated that they had been questioned about their alcohol use.

Some of those individuals surveyed sought help without referrals from their physicians, but these numbers indicate a lost opportunity to intervene upon an ’at-risk’ population that needs help.

Difficulty Addressing the Topic of Alcohol Abuse is a Barrier

Unfortunately, individuals who need treatment aren’t receiving it because some primary care physicians do not feel comfortable telling patients they should drink less. Nor do they feel comfortable prescribing medicine or referring them to a rehabilitation program.

The Toll of Alcohol Abuse

Almost one million Americans died from alcohol-related causes between 1999 and 2017 according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Therefore, alcohol misuse was a concern before COVID-19.

More recently, a spike in alcohol misuse has been partially attributed to the recent pandemic. Treatment has decreased in the past year because of clinic closures and access to support.

Current data reveals that alcohol-related mortality resulting from alcohol-related injuries and overdoses is growing across a broad swath of the population. This is a wake-up call to the mounting danger that alcohol presents to public health is provided by this research.

Sales of Alcohol During the Pandemic

According to a study by Washington University, sales of alcohol in the United States soared by 34% during the pandemic. Therefore, alcohol use disorders are expected to rise as COVID-19 settles down and things return to normal.

Alcoholism is a debilitating disease that needs extensive treatment. Withdrawal symptoms, such as delirium tremens, may be life-threatening if the AUD is severe or alcohol use spans a long period. Seizures and other life-threatening complications might occur if detoxification is performed without proper medical care.

About the Author

Scott H. Silverman has been helping men and women escape from the grasp of addiction for almost 40 years. He is the author of The Opioid Epidemic and the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient treatment program in San Diego.