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Antisocial Alcoholism Increasing in Men and Women

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WebMD Health News

Dec. 16, 1999 (Atlanta) -- The prevalence of antisocial alcoholism may be increasing in both men and women, according to a report in the December issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & ExperimentalResearch. Physicians say prevention and early intervention efforts are critical, particularly for those with a family history of alcoholism.

Researchers interviewed almost 2,000 participants about their alcohol use and family history of alcoholism. The sample was then divided into subgroups of those born before 1930, those born between 1930 and 1949, and those born after 1949.

The data showed that those born after 1949 began using alcohol earlier, had a higher incidence of alcoholism before the age of 25, and exhibited more alcohol-related antisocial behavior such as fights, police involvement, or drunk driving. Additionally, a positive family history was strongly correlated with antisocial alcoholism, and the decreasing age of alcohol use was especially pronounced in women.

"Changes in our society have led to an increase in behavior that was once strongly discouraged, particularly in women," says Scott Stoltenberg, PhD, the chief investigator. "Fifty years ago it was socially unacceptable for women to drink in bars. Perhaps the influence of society can now be used to decrease this behavior." Stoltenberg says a public education campaign could help delay drinking among teenagers.

"If we can delay regular drinking until the twenties, we can prevent a whole host of alcohol-related problems," says Stoltenberg, who is with the department of psychiatry at the University of Michigan. "But so far, there hasn't been any prevention efforts on a national scale. A television awareness campaign for schoolkids could be effective especially if it focuses on family history as a risk factor."

Psychiatrists who treat addiction agree. "Kids with a family history of alcoholism need education from an early age," says James Parker, MD, an addiction psychiatrist at the University of Alabama. "Instead of hiding their history, parents need to teach kids why even moderate drinking is not healthy for them. For this to work, though, parents have to be very open." Psychiatrists say early intervention is also important.

"If people are aware of the danger signs, we can intervene early and decrease progression of the disease," says Elizabeth Howell, MD, an addiction psychiatrist at Emory University. "It often helps to remember the warning signs as the 'Three C's': continued use in the face of adverse consequences, compulsive behavior that centers life around drinking, and loss of control over quantities consumed." Howell says more research is needed for early intervention.

"Interpretation of the data is somewhat limited by the study design, but our results are consistent with the research literature," says Stoltenberg. "Our sample probably overrepresents men and underrepresents people born in the '60s and '70s. Also, the findings are based on self-reported information. So any efforts to validate the data should consider these issues and a national community-based sample as well," he says.

The study was funded by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

Vital Information:

  • The prevalence of antisocial alcoholism may be increasing among men and women born after 1949 compared to older generations, according to a new study.
  • Those with a positive family history of alcohol should be educated at an early age, because it is strongly associated with developing antisocial alcoholism.
  • Parents should not hide their history from their children, but instead teach them why even moderate drinking can be unhealthy.

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