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Alcohol Use Disorder Linked to Early Death
Alcohol use disorder is a mental health diagnosis established in 2013 by the American Psychiatric Association as a replacement for the independent diagnosis of alcoholism and non-addicted alcohol abuse. Doctors and public health officials are keenly aware of the fact that the presence of this disorder has widespread negative effects on the lives of affected individuals. In a study published in April 2014 in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from five nations used information from a U.S.-based project called the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) to assess the society-wide health impacts of alcohol use disorder throughout America.
Alcohol Use Disorder Diagnosis
People affected by physical alcohol dependence and alcoholism commonly experience behavioral changes normally associated with people who periodically drink to excess but don’t have a chemical need to consume alcohol. Conversely, people who don’t meet the independent criteria for diagnosing alcohol dependence/alcoholism still often have at least some of the symptoms associated with alcoholism. The alcohol use disorder diagnosis lets doctors acknowledge the reality of these overlapping conditions by using a mixture of alcoholism-related symptoms and the symptoms of non-addicted alcohol abuse to identify damaging, alcohol-related changes in their patients. Altogether, 11 symptoms are used in making this diagnosis. Severely affected individuals have six to 11 of these symptoms, while minimally affected individuals have two or three. Moderate cases of alcohol use disorder include four to five of the possible symptoms.
The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions was conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in two separate phases in the first decade of the 21st century. The first phase, carried out in 2001 and 2002, used a detailed survey to gather information on the direct and indirect negative outcomes of alcohol consumption from a nationwide, statistically representative sample of 43,093 individuals. This information specifically included data on alcohol abuse and alcoholism (known at the time as the alcohol use disorders). The NIAAA followed up this first phase of the project with a second nationwide survey in 2004 and 2005. Among other things, NESARC was designed to widen the perspective of doctors, researchers and public health officials by reporting on the health outcomes experienced by people not severely affected by the worst possible aspects of alcohol abuse or alcoholism.
Consequences of Heavy Drinking
In the study published in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, researchers from the U.S., Germany, Canada, Australia and Austria used information from the National Epidemiologic Survey to calculate the health consequences of alcohol use disorder in the U.S. Specific consequences under consideration included alcohol-related fatalities, the number of years lost to people who died prematurely from alcoholism- or alcohol abuse-related causes, and the number of years of productivity lost by people disabled by the effects of alcoholism or alcohol abuse. In addition, the researchers considered the cumulative impact of all of these factors. All of the data used in the study came from NESARC’s second phase in 2005. For each potential negative outcome, the researchers broke this data down according to both the age and gender of the NESARC participants.
After completing a complex statistical analysis, the researchers concluded that 65,000 people died in the U.S. in 2005 as a direct or indirect consequence of alcohol use disorder. Among adults age 18 or over, this number amounted to 3 percent of all causes of death. The researchers also concluded that premature death from alcohol-related causes accounted for 1,152,000 years of lost life in 2005; the total for years lost to alcohol-related disability was 2,443,000. Men were five times more likely than women to die from an alcohol-related cause. In addition, compared to their female counterparts, men affected by alcohol-related problems lost more than three times as many years to premature death. Proportionally speaking, young adults affected by alcohol use disorder lost more years to alcohol-related disability than any other age group.
More Access to Treatment Sought
The authors of the study note that they did not anticipate the extent of the alcohol use disorder-related consequences that their project’s findings revealed. They believe that public health officials must take steps, including both broadened access to treatment and improved methods of proactive prevention, to lower the social burden of alcohol use disorder.