Alcohol dependence, or alcoholism, is a huge problem for people around the world. Those who consume alcohol to excess face multiple risks: They can undermine their earning and creative potential, cause emotional damage to themselves and their loved ones, and eventually, ruin their own health. Now, a new review of medical literature finds alcohol dependence is more common than many people - and many doctors - had believed.
Psychiatrist Marc Schuckit has spent decades studying people with drinking problems. He combed through more than 200 recent articles about alcoholism-related health problems, including diabetes, stroke, accidents, and problems with the liver, pancreas, heart and bones . He says he was struck to find how common a problem alcoholism really is.
"It is a lifetime risk for meeting criteria for alcohol dependence of at least 15 percent, and perhaps as high as 20 percent in men, and about 10 percent of women," Shuckit says. "That's a lot of people out there who have severe alcohol problems."
Schuckit also found there's also a surprisingly high rate of people who respond well to treatment. He says that's contrary to what many people believe.
"You give me somebody who says, 'Yeah, I have an alcohol problem, and I am willing to start working on it.' They have somewhere between a 50 and 70 percent chance they will complete the program," Schuckit says.
Schuckit says, in his practice, he usually follows patients for one to three years once they stop drinking He says if patients stay sober for one to three years, they're likely to remain sober five and 10 years later.
Schuckit says there are also new medications that have been successful at helping people overcome dependence, and he says doctors are getting better at helping patients find behavioral therapies to help them beat alcohol as well.
Schuckit's review appears in the British medical journal, The Lancet.