Though alcoholism is common, those who struggle with..." /> Though alcoholism is common, those who struggle with..." />

Study Says 1 in 3 Americans Have Struggled With Alcohol Abuse

People meet for drinks and conversationThough alcoholism is common, those who struggle with addiction often feel marginalized and ashamed. In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association changed criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5) for alcohol use disorder, merging the criteria for abuse and dependence under a single diagnostic umbrella. Researchers used the new diagnostic criteria to evaluate the lifetime prevalence of alcohol use disorders, putting the figure at 1 in 3.

Alcoholism: A Common Challenge

To arrive at their results, researchers evaluated data from more than 36,000 in-person interviews. They found that 29.1% of Americans face an alcohol use disorder at some point during their lives. This means that 68.5 million Americans have struggled with alcoholism at some point. About 32.6 million, or 13.9%, have had an alcohol use disorder in the last 12 months. Of the 68.5 million Americans who face an alcohol use disorder, only 19.8% receive treatment, suggesting barriers to treatment might make recovery more difficult.

Jeremy Frank, PhD, a certified addiction counselor in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, says addiction is a common affliction with a long history. “It’s probably not that alcoholism and addiction are increasing in contemporary society. It’s just that the substances and behaviors that people become addicted to change and become en vogue over time. Apparently the Greek philosophers used to complain that their students drank too much wine. If e-cigs existed back then, maybe that would be the complaint,” he told

The study also looked at demographic differences in alcohol abuse. Native Americans had the highest rate of alcoholism, at 19.2% over the last 12 months and 43.4% over the course of a lifetime. Men were more likely than women to become addicted, with 17.6% reporting alcohol abuse in the last 12 months, and 36% experiencing alcohol addiction at some point. Researchers also found a correlation between substance abuse and other mental health issues, such as depression and bipolar.

“As an addiction psychologist I encourage all of us to explore the role that alcohol, drugs, or other addictive behaviors play in our lives. Many of us have moderate and healthy relationships to addictive substances and behaviors. In fact, part of recovery most likely involves finding healthy or ‘positive addictions.’ These healthy, ritualized dependencies on activities, passions, and hobbies provide an individual with meaning and purpose in their lives. This is the healthy side of addictive tendencies, and neurologically this is how we’ve evolved through natural selection to be at such high risk for addiction,” Frank said.


Alcohol use disorder affects ‘1 in 3 Americans’ in their lifetime. (2015, June 4). Retrieved from

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  • Tia

    June 11th, 2015 at 2:37 PM

    I have so many relatives in my immediate and extended family who I know are alcoholics that I have always determined even from a very early age to stay away form it. I saw up close and personal the problems with drinking that so many people that I intimately know have had and so I just figured that if I stayed away from it and never started it then that would be one less thing that I would have to worry about.

  • Jess

    June 12th, 2015 at 11:38 AM

    I am now very curious to learn how other nations stack up against us and how different cultures within the US fare when they are not in the US. Like are Japanese Americans more likely to have a drinking problem than those who live in Japan? Is it the American culture overall that is driving these numbers in an upward trend?

  • ShannonP

    June 15th, 2015 at 3:24 PM

    What with the hectic lives that most of us lead, it is no wonder that may are turning to chemicals to help enhance their mood or even try to help them get through the day. And alcohol, being so readily available, affordable, and not to mention, legal, this makes a very accessible and user friendly product to turn to.

  • Jeremy

    June 18th, 2015 at 4:23 PM

    Access has so much to do with whether people develop problems. We used to think that Europeans would drink less because they grew up learning how to drink since the drinking age was lower and they could drink at a younger age. It turns out, in general that greater access invariably results in greater problems. That is why it is not a good idea to lower the drinking age. In fact, age of first use is one of the most powerful predictors of whether people develop problems later on. A recent study at Brown University showed that even when individuals reported being allowed by parents to have one sip of alcohol as kids those individuals reported greater likelihood of being diagnosed with a substance use disorder in adulthood.

    Great idea avoiding alcohol if your parents have problems. Access, age of first use, and genetic factors really put someone at risk. I remember a client who had never drank because his parents and all four grandparents were alcoholic. He came to me because he had his stomach pumped and was sent to the hospital at one of the universities where I worked. He was celebrating his 21st birthday and he had his first drink ever and he said he liked it so much that he kept going. After returning from the hospital he said he would never drink again. He said, “I’m an alcohol and now I’m a recovering alcoholic.” Here was a kid who never drank til 21. Then when he did try his first drink he had no control. Now he’s a recovering alcohol and he’s only ever drank on one occasion his whole life!

    – Jeremy PhD CACD Addiction Psychologist

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