A survey conducted by researchers at New York based Columbia University Medical Center has shown that nearly 30 per cent of US adults have had some form of alcohol use disorder at some point in their lifetimes.
Some 17.8 per cent of the adults surveyed reported experiencing alcohol abuse, and 12.5 per cent alcohol dependence.
The background information in an article published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, states that alcohol abuse and dependence are marked by patterns of alcohol consumption that contribute to significant impairment or distress. These disorders lead to a variety of negative consequences, including car crashes, domestic violence, birth defects, and economic costs.
Dr. Deborah S. Hasin and her colleagues analysed data from face-to-face interviews conducted between 2001 and 2002 with 43,093 adults selected to represent the national population. The interviewees were asked questions about all symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence. They were also diagnosed for depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, substance abuse disorder, and other psychiatric conditions.
The researchers say that during the 12 months prior to the survey, 8.5 per cent of adults had an alcohol use disorder, including 4.7 per cent with alcohol abuse and 3.8 per cent who were alcohol-dependent.
"Alcohol dependence was significantly more prevalent among men, whites, Native Americans, younger and unmarried adults and those with lower incomes. Current alcohol abuse was more prevalent among men, whites and younger and unmarried individuals while lifetime rates were highest among middle-aged Americans," the authors write.
The study revealed that alcohol abuse among participants developed at an average age of 22.5, while dependence began at an average age of 21.9. It also showed that alcohol dependence was associated with disability, and as the dependence became more severe, the disability levels increased.
"On average, respondents with alcohol dependence manifested less disability than those with drug dependence and anxiety disorders, but their disability was comparable with that among respondents who had drug abuse, mood and personality disorders," the authors write.
It was also observed that alcohol abuse and dependence were strongly linked with other substance use disorders, though these associations weakened somewhat when controlling for other conditions.
"Significant associations between mood, anxiety and personality disorders and alcohol dependence were reduced in number and magnitude when controlling for other comorbidity," the authors write.
The study suggests that a unique factor may exist for alcohol and other substance abuse disorders, while the link between alcohol problems and personality and mood disorders may be attributed to factors shared among these other disorders.
It also revealed a very low rate of treatment sought by people, who had suffered alcohol use disorders, for their conditions.
"Alcohol abuse and dependence remain highly prevalent and disabling. Persistent low treatment rates given the availability of effective treatments indicate the need for vigorous education efforts for the public and professionals," the authors conclude.