Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism Common

Study: 30% of U.S. Adults Have Abused Alcohol or Been Alcoholics

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on July 02, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

July 2, 2007 -- Thirty percent of U.S. adults have experienced alcohol abuse or alcoholism, and fewer are getting treatment for alcohol use disorders than in the past.

That’s according to a new study on alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, which is commonly called alcoholism.

The study, published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, is based on more than 43,000 U.S. adults who were interviewed in person between 2001 and 2002.

Participants answered questions about their alcohol use in the past year and throughout their lives.

The researchers included Bridget Grant, PhD, of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). They checked participants' answers for signs of alcohol abuse or alcoholism.

Alcohol Abuse vs. Alcoholism

Not sure where the line is between alcohol abuse and alcoholism? Here are some quick facts from the NIAAA's web site.

Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is a disease that includes these four symptoms:

  • Craving alcohol
  • Loss of control -- not being able to stop drinking
  • Physical dependence -- experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking
  • Tolerance -- the need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get "high"


Alcohol abuse includes drinking problems without dependence on alcohol.

The NIAAA suggests answering these four questions to help determine whether you or someone you know may have a drinking problem:

  • Have you ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?
  • Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

According to the NIAAA, answering "yes" to one of those questions suggests a possible alcohol problem, and more than one "yes" means that it's highly likely that problem exists.

The NIAAA recommends seeing a doctor or other health care provider immediately if you think that you or someone you know might have an alcohol problem.

Alcohol Abuse, Alcoholism Statistics

Grant’s team reports the following statistics on participants' alcohol abuse and alcoholism:

  • Nearly 18% had ever abused alcohol and almost 5% had done so in the past year.
  • Some 12% had ever been alcoholics and nearly 4% had been alcoholics in the past year.


Alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence were more common in men than women. Among ethnic groups, Native Americans had the highest rate of alcohol use disorders, followed by whites.

Alcoholism and alcohol abuse typically started around age 22. On average, alcohol abuse lasted about three years and alcoholism lasted nearly four years.

Those findings raise two important points. "First, alcohol dependence is highly chronic [meaning it lasts a long time] and second, recovery is possible," Grant's team writes.

Alcohol Treatment Rare

Few alcoholics or alcohol abusers got treatment for their drinking, the study shows.

Only 24% of those who had ever been alcoholics ever received treatment, while 7% of those who had ever abused alcohol had ever received treatment.

"These treatment rates are slightly lower than treatment rates 10 years earlier," write the researchers.

They see stigma as a major reason why people don’t seek treatment for alcohol abuse and alcoholism.

"A call to action appears to be indicated to educate and update the public and policymakers about alcohol use disorders, to destigmatize the disorders, and to encourage help-seeking among those who cannot stop drinking despite considerable harm to themselves and others," write Grant and colleagues.


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SOURCES: Hasin, D. Archives of General Psychiatry, July 2007; vol 64: pp 830-842. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "FAQs for the General Public." National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: "Alcohol Alert No. 30: Diagnostic Criteria for Alcohol Abuse and Dependence." News release, JAMA/Archives.

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