Alcohol Survey Reveals 'Lost Decade' Between Ages of Onset Disorder and Treatment
NIAAA Survey Reveals 'Lost Decade' Between Ages of Onset Disorder and Treatment
Schmalfeldt: They're calling it "The Lost Decade." It's the nearly 10-year gap between the time when a person experiences onset of alcohol dependence or abuse and the time that person eventually seeks treatment. According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism's 2001-2002 National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions — also known as NESARC — this gap is nearly unchanged from what was reported in 1991-1992. Dr. Mark Willenbring, Director of the Division of Treatment and Recovery Research at the NIAAA said this is dismaying information, given the effectiveness and availability of proven treatments and the fact that alcoholism is not a difficult disease to diagnose.
Willenbring: Clinicians should basically be screening for the presence of heavy drinking, and by that we mean exceeding our guidelines which is no more than three drinks in one day for a woman and no more than four for a man. If they simply ask about that, then they will identify heavy drinkers earlier in the course of the illness.
Schmalfeldt: Dr. Willenbring said that reluctance to seek treatment plays a role in this "lost decade" between onset and treatment.
Willenbring: Alcoholism is a very stigmatizing disease and people are very reluctant to accept a diagnosis. Entering a treatment program is in some ways a kind of public procedure. It changes a lot of things in your life. Also, people lack access to treatment. Insurance companies, for example, often set higher co-pays and more limits on care than they do for other chronic disorders. And finally, the treatments that are offered in most centers around the country, which is group counseling and AA, are treatments for the most part that people don't like much.
Schmalfeldt: However, Dr. Willenbring said there is some optimism to be found in the NESARC survey.
Willenbring: The good news is that the average length of the longest episode of alcoholism is about four years, and 72 percent — almost three quarters of people who have alcoholism — only have one episode. So a lot of people are getting well from this disorder.
Schmalfeldt: For more info, log on to www.niaaa.nih.gov. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Dr. Mark Willenbring
Topic: Alcohol Disorders