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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Columbia Research Reports Three in 10 U.S. Adults Have Drinking Problem

Nearly 30 percent of U.S. adults have a drinking problem or have misused alcohol at some point, according to latest research by Dr. Deborah Hasin, professor of epidemiology in psychiatry at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Yet, less than one in five people with symptoms of dependence received treatment.  The study is based on data from more than 36,000 adults collected from the DSM-5 classification of alcohol use disorder. Findings are published online in JAMA Psychiatry.

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[Photo: Dr. Deborah Hasin]

“The stigma of alcohol problems is a major barrier to getting treatment,” according to Dr. Hasin, who is also professor of psychiatry at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and senior author.

Dr. Hasin and colleagues focused the study on whether drinking had affected an individual’s daily life, a condition defined as alcohol use disorder. Symptoms include drinking more or longer than intended; finding that alcohol is negatively impacting family, work, or school; and making dangerous choices such as driving while intoxicated or having unprotected sex.

“We based our findings on the impact of alcohol rather than a set number of drinks because outcomes often vary and people may underestimate how much they drink,” noted Dr. Hasin.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, women can limit their risk of developing a problem if they have three drinks or less in one day or seven over the course of a week. To reduce risk among men, they suggest a cap of four drinks in one day or no more than 14 per week, measured by a 12-ounce beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine or 1.5-ounces of hard liquor for both men and women.

Overall, misuse occurred at approximately age 26, and at age 23 for those most severely affected. Prevalence of the disorder was generally highest for men (36 percent), compared to women (23 percent). White adults were more likely to develop dependency issues (33 percent) than Blacks (22 percent). Native Americans reported having a greater addiction (43 percent) compared with Whites. Those who never married were more likely to drink excessively (17 percent) compared to married or cohabitating adults (12 percent). Higher rates of a severe drinking problem were found among the poor and those with less than a high school degree. There also were significant associations between 12-month and lifetime alcohol use disorder and other substance abuse disorders, and with depression and bipolar disorder.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the National Institute on Drug Abuse by grant K05AA014223 from the National Institutes of Health.