Study: More People Misuse Alcohol, But Fewer Addicted

The number of American adults misusing alcohol is on the rise, with young minorities at particularly high risk. However, alcohol-dependence rates have declined, which researchers attributed in part to a decrease in heavy drinking.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA’s) 2001-2002 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) finds that 17.6 million Americans were either dependent on alcohol or misused it in 2001-2002, compared with 13.8 million adults in 1991-1992. The rate of alcohol misuse increased from 3.03 percent of the population to 4.65 percent during the decade, while the rate of alcohol addiction declined from an estimated 4.38 percent of the population to 3.81 percent.

The study said that alcohol misuse and addiction in 2001-2002 was significantly higher among men than women, as well as among individuals in the 18-29 and 30-44 age groups. In addition, there was a significant increase in alcohol misuse among black and Hispanic men, and Asian women aged 18-29 years.

Alcohol-addiction rates significantly increased among black women and Asian men aged 18-29, researchers added.

The findings were based on interviews with 43,093 individuals.

“The NESARC report reinforces the need for ongoing research to define genetic and environmental factors that contribute to alcohol abuse and dependence, as well as current NIAAA initiatives for the early identification of at-risk drinkers and the application of research-based interventions in vulnerable populations, especially underage drinkers,” said Ting-Kai Li, M.D., director of NIAAA. “The fact that alcohol disorder rates are highest among young adults underscores the need for concerted research on drinking patterns that initiate in adolescence.”

The study is published in the current issue of the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence.