A report released by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) earlier this month reveals that those with alcohol use disorder (AUD) aren’t actually getting treatment for it until around a decade after the onset of the problem. In the study, researchers found that only 24.1 percent of alcohol-dependent people said that they had sought any sort of treatment, which is a small percentage considering how broadly “treatment” was defined: seeing a physician or a therapist, going through a 12-step program, or going to an assistance center. How do you account for this so-called “lost decade” where AUD was left ignored and untreated?
Dr. Bridget Grant, principal investigator of an earlier study, the 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, says, “An important first step toward closing the treatment-need gap would be an intensive program ... to educate the public and professionals about the signs and risks of alcohol dependence, to destigmatize the illness, and to promote understanding of the benefits of intervention.” That sounds sensible enough. It also seems to be good timing. Another highly publicized study found that around 10.1 million workers (8.8 percent of full-time U.S. workers are heavy alcohol drinkers. Are you a heavy alcohol drinker? If you find yourself drinking five or more drinks on one occasion, five or more times over 30 days, the answer is yes, according to the study’s definition of heavy drinking.
Alcohol abuse is all the more worrisome in this country because of underage drinking. Take for example, a recent University of Minnesota study, which found that about twice as many young men were likely to buy alcohol for underage youth when “shoulder-tapped” outside a liquor store. The NIAAA study found that the average age of onset of alcohol abuse was 21.9 years. Are people abusing alcohol the same year that they turn legal? That would be the sympathetic view. I find it hard to believe that an average of nine months after the big 2-1, people would all of a sudden turn into dangerous drinkers. More likely, they had already developed their habit as underage drinkers. They clearly got plenty of help along the way, too.