Some people believe that alcoholics are morally, mentally and physically weak. Others believe that alcoholics have a legitimate, science-based disease. Divided opinion belies a basic fact: the majority of alcoholics -- your neighbors and mine -- do not receive the treatment they need.
A recent study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) began with the premise that much of the information currently available on alcoholics is based on those who enter formal treatment, even though that group makes up a clear minority of alcoholics in society. Or, stated another way, an overwhelming majority of alcoholics in American society do not receive any kind of treatment for their problem. As demonstrated in the October issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, this means that what is 'known' about alcoholics very likely does not reflect the 'typical' alcoholic in society.
"Prior research has shown that about a quarter of alcoholics have ever received treatment for their illness," said Dr. Eric B. Raimo, Research Fellow in Psychiatry at the University of California in San Diego and at the San Diego Veterans Administration Medical Center. "Conversely, that means about 75 percent have not received any kind of treatment, which includes intensive in-patient treatment, less intensive out-patient rehabilitation, counseling, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, anything." The study conducted by Raimo and his colleagues, part of a larger six-center Collaborative Study on the Genetics of Alcoholism (COGA), found that about 30 percent of their sample had ever received treatment of any sort for their alcoholism..
"Denial is one of the main reasons why alcoholics do not enter treatment," said Raimo. "They just don't think they have a problem." Yet even for those who can admit to abuse of or dependence on alcohol, opinion is divided on what they should do next.