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In a disturbing statistic, researchers revealed that one in eight American adults (over 12 percent) meet the criteria for alcohol use disorder, better known as alcoholism. The term “alcohol use disorder” can also include high-risk drinking patterns that have the potential to develop into alcoholism.
The data in the JAMA study comes from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), initiated by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that 88,000 deaths can be contributed to alcohol misuse on a yearly basis. This makes alcoholism the fourth leading cause of preventable death, behind smoking tobacco, medical errors, and being overweight.
With these facts in mind, alcohol is also responsible for more deaths per year than opioids.
In order to learn more about the increasing prevalence of alcoholism, we must first consider the criteria that the JAMA study, and others, uses to determine incidences of alcohol use disorders.
The National Institutes of Health divide alcohol use disorders into two subgroups: alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence.
Alcohol abuse refers to “maladaptive drinking patterns” which lead to “clinically significant impairment or distress.” Behaviors that indicate alcohol abuse include using alcohol in physically dangerous situations (i.e., drunk driving), repeated incidences of poor work on the job or in school due to alcohol use, or social/relational issues that can be attributed to excessive and consistent drinking.
Alcohol dependence includes the same criteria, though is indicative of an inability to correct those patterns, despite a person’s best efforts to do so.
People who suffer from alcohol dependence can also experience withdrawal symptoms when they do not drink alcohol for any given period of time. All of the mentioned behaviors, in the case of alcohol dependence, are consistent and long-lasting, rather than a reaction to a temporary situation.
Authors of the JAMA study included Bridget Grant, a researcher at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
In discussing the research findings, Grant expanded upon the stigmas associated with alcohol abuse—stigmas that persist, even when research reveals the rising crisis and rocky relationship that many Americans continue to have with alcohol.
“I think that there’s a lot of stigma still associated with it and people don’t want to talk to their doctors about it. We haven’t done the job for alcohol that we’ve done with depression,” Grant said.
Creating awareness surrounding this topic is only the first step; making treatment available to those who are suffering from alcohol use disorders is a critical part of moving forward and understanding the scope of the problem.
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