The vast majority of adult Americans who abuse alcohol never seek treatment, according to a new government public health survey.
The survey, the first of its kind by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in 10 years, presents a full picture of alcohol disorders in the country.
One of the most striking findings from interviews done more than five years ago was the low numbers of people who seek treatment for alcohol disorders.
Only 24 percent of those who suffer from alcoholism ever seek treatment. This rate was slightly higher a decade ago. And for those who do seek help, the average age is 32.1 - 10 years following the typical onset of alcoholism for those in the study.
As for alcohol abusers - those whose excessive drinking leads to personal and professional problems - just 7 percent seek treatment, with an average lag time of eight years between the onset of abuse and treatment.
The stigma surrounding alcohol abuse stops many from admitting the problem and seeking help, said Barbara Keller, director of the Hauppauge-based Suffolk Coalition to Prevent Alcohol and Drug Dependency.
"Because there is tremendous denial, it's just very painful to do the intervention that's needed," she said in an interview yesterday.
Southside Hospital in Bay Shore closed its detoxification center more than a year ago, said Dr. Michael Deoman, the hospital's director of chemical dependency service. He said several similar facilities were recently shuttered on Long Island and across the nation.
"The entire country is lacking in the treatment of substance abuse because there is still the thought that substance abuse is 'willful misconduct,'" Deoman said, quoting a 1988 Supreme Court decision upholding the denial of educational benefits to two alcoholic men by the Veterans Administration.
The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions was compiled from approximately 43,000 random interviews with people 18 and older in 2001 and 2002.
The survey, which breaks down rates of alcohol abuse by age, race, socioeconomic group and other factors, also found that 30.3 percent of adults have abused alcohol or suffered from alcoholism at some point in their lives.
Of men surveyed, 42 percent had an alcohol disorder in their lifetime, compared with 19.5 percent of women.
Alcoholism is much more prevalent among men, whites, American Indians, and younger and unmarried adults.
Over a lifetime, single and married men had virtually identical rates of alcohol abuse and alcoholism, around 31 percent.
But alcohol abuse and alcoholism rates were more prevalent at higher income levels. Of those making less than $20,000 a year, rates of alcohol disorders were 23.9 percent. For earners of $70,000 and above, the rate was 41.4 percent.
author: CHRISTINA HERNANDEZ