Dangerous Levels of Drinking
There are new numbers out on Americans and alcohol consumption and things aren’t looking good.
According to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, there are several million more people with drinking problems than previously thought. The study examined drinking behavior on two levels – lifetime abuse and past year prevalence.
Dr. Bridget Grant, from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and lead author of the study, was spurred to reexamine Americans’ drinking patterns after the release of the DSM-5 in 2013.
The DSM is the manual used for diagnosing addiction, alcoholism, and many other mental health issues. In this most recent update, the fifth, it merged various forms of alcohol abuse into one new illness – alcohol use disorder (AUD).
After researching levels of alcohol use disorders, Dr. Grant and her colleagues came to a strong conclusion,
“Most importantly, this study highlighted the urgency of educating the public and policymakers about alcohol use disorder and its treatments, destigmatizing [sic] the disorder and encouraging among those who cannot reduce their alcohol consumption on their own, despite substantial harm to themselves and others, to seek treatment” (Medical News Today).
The Latest Numbers on Alcohol Abuse
What exactly did Dr. Grant and her team find? Well, a vast increase in alcohol consumption across the board. Find their data broken down below:
- Just over 29% of Americans reported having some sort of alcohol use disorder in their lifetime.
- Just under 14% of Americans reported having some sort of alcohol use disorder in the past year.
- Broken into numbers, this translates to 68.5 million people with lifetime AUDs and 32.6 million people with past year AUDs.
- 36% of men reported having an alcohol use disorder in their lifetime.
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- 17.6% of men reported having an alcohol use disorder in the past year.
- Just over 19% of American Indians reported having a past year AUD, with 43.4% reporting a lifetime AUD.
- Compare those numbers to the Caucasian population and there’s a large discrepancy. 14% of white Americans reported a past year alcohol use disorder and 32.6% reported a lifetime alcohol use disorder.
- For the prevalence of excessive alcohol consumption, a relatively small percentage of people are seeking treatment. Only 19.8% of those with an AUD will receive treatment of any kind.
It’s clear to see from the above statistics that something major is going on. Alcohol has always been America’s drug of choice…but almost 30% of the country has had an AUD at some point? That seems like a HUGE number.
Let’s examine the recent changes to the DSM. Perhaps merging the different clinical forms of alcohol abuse into one has something to do with these astronomically high numbers.
Changes in the DSM-5
DSM stands for “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.” It’s the go to way to diagnosis individuals with just about any type of mental illness. As such, the DSM can be found in every doctor’s office, treatment center, and mental health clinic across the country.
The fifth edition of this landmark book was published in mid 2013. Among many other changes was the inclusion of Alcohol Use Disorder. As mentioned above, this new view of alcohol abuse merged two older definitions.
Previously, there was alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence. Alcohol abuse was comprised of things like heavy drinking, binge drinking, and problem drinking. Alcohol dependence was comprised of physical addiction to alcohol, i.e. the inability to stop without suffering withdrawals.
Merging the two allows doctors and clinicians to diagnosis someone with an AUD who, previously, may only have met the criteria for alcohol abuse. Depending on how you look at it, this leads to a more holistic picture of alcoholism or a more skewed portrayal of drinking behavior.
Think about it – if someone exhibited social consequences from their alcohol consumption in the past, they could be diagnosed as exhibiting alcohol abuse. Today, they’d fall under the umbrella of having an alcohol use disorder.
This broader definition is certainly what led to the large numbers above. 68.5 million Americans have experienced some form of AUD in their lifetime. This can range from an episode of binge drinking to full on, hallucination producing alcoholism.
There’s no doubt in my mind that our country is drinking more than ever before. Still, it’s not as bleak a picture as those numbers paint. With a combination of proactive educational measures and increased access to treatment, we should see significantly fewer people exhibiting an AUD.