Alcohol problems affect almost 33 million adults and most have never sought treatment, according to a government survey that suggests rates have increased in recent years. The study is the first national estimate based on a new term, "alcohol use disorder," in a widely used psychiatric handbook (DSM-5) that was updated in 2013. Researchers from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism asked 36,000 adults during 2012 or 2013 about lifetime drinking habits, including current or within the past year. About 14% of adults were current or recent problem drinkers, or nearly 33 million nationally, and 30%—almost 69 million—had been at some point in their lives.
Drinking problems were most prevalent among men, whites, and Native Americans. Low-income adults, those younger than 30, and those who never married also relatively high rates. Problem drinking also was more common among city dwellers than those in rural areas, while the West and Midwest had higher rates than other regions. The new handbook defines problem drinkers or those with the disorder as people with at least two of 11 symptoms, including drinking that harms performance at work, school, or home; frequent hangovers; and failed attempts to limit drinking. Mild problems involve two to three symptoms; severe involve at least six symptoms.