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Substance Abuse and Addiction Health Center

Antisocial Alcoholism Increasing in Men and Women

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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.

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