Americans and Alcohol Abuse - an Update

First it was cancer, then AIDS, now with the release of a new study showing once again the astonishing prevalence of a serious disease that gets meager attention in this country, one is forced to ask:

Is alcoholism the next health problem to be undertreated due to shame, guilt, blame and ignorance?

More than 30 percent of American adults have abused alcohol or suffered from alcoholism at some point in their lives, and few have received treatment, according to a new government study.

Some of the facts in this report from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism are worth listing:

1. Only 24% of alcoholics admit to ever receiving treatment.
2. An average of eight years pass before an alcoholic receives treatment.
3. "Whites and Native Americans were more likely than other ethnic groups to report drinking problems."

According to the experts quoted in this study, educating the public about the risks of alcoholism and the benefits of treatment, along with providing access to treatment for those who need it are the keys to reducing the incidence of this major public health problem:

The treatment rate for alcoholics was slightly less than the rate found a decade earlier. The study did not look at reasons for the decline, but other research has revealed a belief among doctors and the public that treatment doesn't work.

"Nearly 100,000 people die every year of alcohol-related causes," says Dr. James C. Garbutt, medical director of the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. "Alcohol carries a $200 billion or more cost to society. These are huge statistics."

The stigma of alcohol abuse is a major obstacle to treatment and recovery, from patients who are afraid to seek help to insurance companies who limit payment for alcohol dependence.

For an incisive summary of this report along with a superb exposition of the state of alcohol abuse and treatment in this country, don't read my amateurish contribution - go immediately to this article written by Dan Childs of ABC News.


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"The study did not look at reasons for the decline, but other research has revealed a belief among doctors and the public that treatment doesn't work."

And wouldn't the MOST important reason for any decline be that only the wealthiest of US citizens can even afford detox, let alone adequate rehab?

Further, a large portion of addicts are also likely to be suffering some long term brain disorder / mental illness. The research and treatment of the dual diagnosis syndrome is so far behind what it should be as to constitute a major failing in medicine today.

When I was trying to find a place for my dual diagnosis syndrome, I called several dozen places around the country. I also called all state agencies in TN. There was not a single facility that treated alcoholism, let alone dual diagnosis that took Medicare for its entire payment.

Its all I have, Medicare. Think about that. Its likely that no one on Medicare in the entire US can get treated. Why don't the stats reflect that and how many of the addicted are not even counted in polls just because they don't have access to treatment.

We KNOW we don't have access, why try to get treatment? Its simply a shame that the government refuses to acknowledge.

Chapter 3 in the book Alcoholics Anonymous begins with "Most of us have been unwilling to admit that we were alcoholics. No person likes to think that he is bodily or mentally different from his fellows. Therefore it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterized by countless vain attempts to prove that we could drink like other people." Alcoholism is a disease that is characterized by the denial that we are even sick. Furthermore, when it becomes all to obvious to us (usually long after it is all to obvious to everyone else) that we do have a drinking problem, we are stigmatized if we attempt to get treatment. How many of your cancer patients would come in for treatment if they knew for a certainty that forevermore they would be denied compassionate treatment for everything else if they do? I have a friend who is in stage 4 breast cancer who will not tell her oncologist that she is an alcoholic because of her fear that he won't treat her pain if she does. If this stigma is to be broken, it is the medical profession, not the government or insurance companies that needs to take the next step; the first twelve have been taken by the alcoholic.

I have to agree with Hope. If alcoholics know they are sick they certainly go out of their way to deny it. And when they are confronted with it they are scorned. If you don't believe me, look at the public ridicule Britney Spears got for her meltdown. If someone is willing to admit that they need help they'd be better off at a group like AA than seeking compassion from some of the nurses and doctors I read in blogs who seem to have nothing but contempt for them. I'm sure the alcoholic can do without another scarlett letter. I would like to think that if we all realized that this is a disease, both physical and mental there would be more help available. But I think that we have a long way to go in that respect.

I am an addictions therapist and work with people whose lives have become devastated. To me a frightening aspect of chemical dependency is that we have an effective path to reduce the cost to everyone, and that is prevention. Proper, long term prevention programs can reduce school age involvement with kids by %50. One famous government study indicated that for every $1.00 spent in prevention saves $7.00 in social program costs. It is embarrassing that we have a remedy at hand and there is a distinct apathy about funding and implementing it

But Bill, if the money spent on punitive measures was redirected to preventive measures, the War on Drugs might be won.
I suggest punitive measures are favored over preventive because people are addicted to hate; they need to hate drug users.

I had a problem with drinking when I was a teenager, but with a lot of work, I have not for many years.

Treatment needs to be encouraged and funded.

For those who are looking for treatment from addiction, they can go to the web and hear a 12 step meeting on the air and take a "peak inside a 12 step meeting". Check out a list of radio stations that air Steppin' Out - the 12 Step Radio Show (a 12 step meeting on the air) to hear the show, or listen live on the web. It's a great resource for those who can't get to a meeting, want to hear new stories of inspiration and hope, or want to know what happens in a 12 step meeting.....