Harvard Mental Health Letter

In Brief: Treatment rates for alcohol abuse and dependence remain low

In Brief

Treatment rates for alcohol abuse and dependence remain low

Effective treatments are available for alcohol abuse and dependence, but the number of people with these disorders who are actually undergoing treatment has remained stubbornly low, according to an analysis of federal data.

Researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism analyzed data from the 2001–2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a landmark survey involving more than 43,000 respondents. The analysis reveals that alcohol problems remain common, with 12.5% of respondents reporting they experienced alcohol dependence, and almost 18% reporting alcohol abuse, at some point in their lives. Yet only about 24% of those who were dependent on alcohol, and only 7% of those abusing it, said they had ever undergone treatment.

The problem is not lack of health insurance coverage, the researchers note, because most problem drinkers are insured. Instead, the researchers speculate that the low treatment rates reflect a combination of continuing stigmatization of these disorders and a lack of public knowledge about effective treatments. To improve treatment rates, the researchers recommend a public education effort, to inform both patients and clinicians about the signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse and dependence and the benefits of available treatments.

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