Skip to main content

Study: Problem drinking affects 33 million Americans, few seek help

  • Author:
  • Updated:

Almost 33 million adults in the U.S. have alcohol problems, but most of those people have never sought treatment, according to a new survey.

The study is the first national estimate based on a new term, "alcohol use disorder," in a widely used psychiatric handbook that was updated in 2013.

The study by the National Institutes on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) study says 68.5 million Americans, or 29 percent of the population, have misused alcohol at some point in their lives, but only 19.8 percent have sought help.

There were 32.6 million people, or 14 percent of Americans, who met the criteria for an alcohol use disorder in the past 12 months – and those numbers have gone up over the past decade, the study found.

Alcohol use disorders aren't just full-blown alcoholism, but rather any kind of problematic drinking, which is categorized as mild, moderate or severe, according to the NIAAA.

"These findings underscore that alcohol problems are deeply entrenched and significantly under-treated in our society," NIAAA Director George F. Koob said in a press release.

Relatively few people may seek treatment because of stigma attached with getting help, denial that their drinking is problematic or ignorance of options available to help them overcome alcohol issues, including several types of medication and behavioral therapies, Koob said to Live Science.

"There's a lore that there's only Alcoholics Anonymous out there and that's not true," Koob told The Associated Press.

Who's drinking the most?

Alcohol use disorder is a term doctors started to use when the Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, came out in 2013, Medical Daily explained. To meet the definition of alcohol use disorder, a person has to meet at least two out of 11 criteria indicating problematic drinking.

Previously, problematic drinking fell under one of two categories, alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence, instead of a single condition. The differences between the new and old criteria are more thoroughly explained by this NIAAA comparison.

Researchers conducted interviews with more than 36,000 people between April 2012 and June 2013.

Nearly 40 percent of adults surveyed said they had at least five drinks in a day at least once in the past year - which is classified as "binge drinking" - up from 31 percent in the earlier survey.

The study found more men have alcohol use disorders than women. Younger people were also more likely to have alcohol problems, with 7.1 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds meeting the criteria for a severe alcohol use disorder in the past 12 months. There were 26.7 percent of younger people who had any alcohol use disorder in the past 12 months.

Whites and Native Americans were more likely to have an alcohol use disorder than blacks, Asians or Hispanics. Disorders were also higher among people who were previously married or never married, and among people with other disorders, including other types of substance abuse, major depression, bipolar disorder, antisocial and borderline personality disorders.

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-12-03 at 4.35.18 PM

Watch: New London-Spicer wins 3A championship on incredible walk-off TD

New London-Spicer defeated the unbeaten Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in remarkable circumstances.


Suspect in woman's killing in Moorhead is arrested

James Kollie Jr. was arrested Friday evening.

Jennifer Carnahan

Former chair Jennifer Carnahan sues Minnesota GOP, which is suing her back

Carnahan stepped down under a cloud of controversy in August 2021.

Minneapolis Fire Department

One injured after leaping from burning vacant building in Minneapolis

Authorities say the building is known to be used by squatters.


Head-on crash leaves two drivers dead in southeastern Minnesota

The crash happened in Houston County just before 4 p.m. Friday.


Charges: Armed man made death threats at Minneapolis LGBTQ bar

The man allegedly used derogatory terms while threatening to kill someone.


FDA pulls last COVID-19 monoclonal antibody treatment as new variants rise

A therapy used to treat more than 11,000 Minnesotans is no longer authorized amid a surge in the latest COVID-19 variants.

Austin Robert LeClaire

Charges: Plymouth man shot girlfriend in head after birthday party

The 23-year-old victim is in critical condition as of Friday.


State announces $2.5M in grants for child care providers

Child care providers in roughly a dozen communities will receive funds to help grow the supply of affordable, quality child care.


Probe of Golden Valley police uncovers racism, alleged misconduct

One officer was terminated for alleged racist comments and violations of state law.

blowing snow

Blowing snow Friday in Minnesota; will it snow next week?

Winds could gust up to 50 mph Friday afternoon and night.

Deer hunting blaze orange

To combat CWD, late-season deer hunting announced for 9 areas of MN

The special hunts will be held between Dec. 16 and 18.