Alcoholism is a common disease, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been concerns of rising alcohol use while people endure new psychological and economic stressors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 4 different medications for alcohol use disorder since the year 1949, though many people have not heard of these medications.
A new study published in JAMA Psychiatry has shown that though there are treatments for alcoholism and guidelines that recommend their use, medications for alcoholism are rarely prescribed. For the study, the researchers looked at data from nearly 43,000 adults, just over half of whom were women. All participants had been participants in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2019. The survey included questions to assess likelihood of alcohol use disorder as well as details of the treatment that participants had received.
The results of the study showed that of the more than 14 million people who had alcohol use disorder, only 1 million received alcohol use treatment, and only 223,000 used medications to treat their disorder. The reasons for the relatively low use of alcohol treatment – and particularly medications to treat alcohol use disorder – were not clear from the study. However, the study did reveal that certain factors increased the likelihood of receiving alcohol use disorder treatment.
For instance, living in a large metropolitan area or receiving mental health care were associated with increased chances of being treated for alcohol use disorder. For those who visited an emergency department, there was an increased chance of receiving alcohol use treatment that did not involve medication. .
According to the authors of the study, more work is needed to improve the treatment of alcohol use disorder. More research may be able to help highlight where gaps in treatment exist and why those suffering from alcohol use disorder may fail to receive the physician level treatment they need.
Han B, Jones CM, Einstein EB, Powell PA, Compton WM. Use of Medications for Alcohol Use Disorder in the US. JAMA Psychiatry. Published online June 16, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2021.1271