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

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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.

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