Few Alcoholics Receive Needed Treatment

June 25, 2015

Few Alcoholics Receive Needed Treatment
Oregon Youth Study Data suggests that alcohol problems are often underreported
June 24, 2015

A new study suggests alcohol addiction is more prevalent than previously believed but few alcoholics ever receive needed treatment. New research from the Oregon Youth Study recently published online in Comprehensive Psychiatry suggests that people often forget, or fail to accurately report, alcohol problems they experienced in their past. Yet, estimates of the frequency of adult alcohol disorders are often built on such reports.

For nearly three decades, the Oregon Youth Study regularly examined approximately 200 working class men from disadvantaged backgrounds, from preteen years to the thirties. Records on the men from prior assessments found that many men identified as alcoholics in the past now failed to report these problems in their mid-30s. When past records were taken into account, the number of men who were ever diagnosed as alcoholics in the study rose from 50% to 70%.

Dr. Alan Feingold, the study’s lead author, said, “Most important from a public health standpoint, less than a third of the men who were alcoholics in the sample had ever received treatment for alcohol abuse, and the men who did receive treatment were largely forced into it when their alcohol-related problems became so severe that it couldn’t be avoided.”
The men in the study who had been arrested for problems related to their alcohol use (e.g., committing DUIs) were more likely to have entered treatment, presumably because they were mandated into treatment by the criminal justice system. Surprisingly, the alcohol use of the men’s wives and friends appeared to play little role in treatment utilization because heavy drinking by these significant others was not associated with the alcoholic men’s entering into treatment. Educational level and other mental health problems also failed to differentiate between alcoholics who did and did not receive needed treatment.

The Oregon Social Learning Center is a non-profit, collaborative, multidisciplinary research center dedicated to increasing the scientific understanding of social and psychological processes related to healthy development and family functioning. We apply that understanding to the design and evaluation of interventions that strengthen children, adolescents, families, and communities. Alan Feingold is a research scientist at OSLC; co-author Deborah Capaldi is a senior scientist who heads up the Oregon Youth Study.

The study can be found at: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0010440X15000851