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Prevalence and Impact of Alcohol Dependence

Michael J. Bohn, MD, and Robert M. Swift, MD, PhD

Published: December 15, 2006

Article Abstract

Alcohol dependence has a high prevalence in the United States, with approximately 18 million people dependent on or abusing alcohol. Misuse of alcohol is associated with great financial costs and high rates of morbidity and mortality. Alcohol disorders can be treated as effectively as other chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes, or coronary heart disease, yet problem drinking is not well recognized and remains undertreated. Although validated screening instruments and biochemical markers can help identify patients with drinking disorders, many physicians are unaware of their patients’ hazardous, abusive, or dependent alcohol use. Research shows that early screening is feasible, has proved useful in helping make a diagnosis of alcoholism, and can have significant benefit on health care costs. Like other chronic relapsing conditions, alcohol disorders are both preventable and treatable. Early screening has great potential to decrease alcohol-induced health risks and economic burden. Clinicians should routinely screen persons for alcohol use to identify not only those with alcohol dependence but also early-stage problem drinkers.

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