January 16, 2012

Americans Seek Therapy Frequently

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Joseph V. Madia, MD By:

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Alcohol use disorder in the United States is treated more often

(dailyRx News) A cross-cultural comparison of drinking habits yields unsavory results for the United States. Americans may drink more often, but do seek help.

According to a new study, alcoholism is significantly more common in the U.S. than it is in South Korea. However Americans tend to solicit help more readily.

"If you have a drinking issue, ask for help."

“Even though we found a greater prevalence of alcoholism, mood and anxiety disorders among Americans in comparison to South Koreans, alcohol-dependent Americans were four times more likely to seek treatment compared to their Korean counterparts."

"This may indicate the influence of a social stigma toward substance-abuse or mental-health problems in Korea,” explains corresponding author on the study, Hae Kook Lee, M.D., of the Catholic University of Korea.

To become available in an April issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the study reviewed nationally representative samples from the United States and South Korea in order to generate a comparison of mental health issues.

Studying rates of alcohol use disorder (AUD), nicotine disorder (ND), as well as mood and anxiety disorders, the authors examined patterns and co-morbidity within individuals seeking treatment in the past year.

The United States demonstrated higher rates of all mental health issues in terms of percentages, results demonstrated 9.7, 14.4, 9.5, and 11.9 among Americans for alcoholism, nicotine addiction, any mood disorder, and any anxiety disorder, respectively.

In North Korea, the numbers fell to 7.1, 6.6, 2.0, and 5.2 percent, respectively.

Dr. Lee notes, "The differences in overall prevalence of AUD rates between the two countries was largely due to prevalence among females, that is, drinking by women has historically been tempered by Confucian culture in Korea even though it is increasing rapidly now."

Howard B. Moss, M.D., of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), notes the United States holds a “longer cultural history with alcohol” than that of South Korea.

Moreover, he explains, "Americans with alcohol dependence and psychiatric co-morbidity are more likely to seek treatment than those with alcohol dependence alone.”

Dr. Moss believes individuals seek treatment primarily based on their level of discomfort rather than on their social beliefs regarding stigma. The data certainly supports this theory as Lee reports 1 in 6 Americans suffering with alcoholism were also treated for a mood (17.5 percent) or anxiety disorders (17.3 percent) in the year past. On the contrary, Koreans rates were 4.3 and 6.6 percent, respectively.

Unfortunately, co-morbidity between alcoholism and psychiatric disease is not uncommon. People with alcohol use disorders frequently suffer from co-occurring psychiatric disorders as well.

Worse off, according to the NIAAA, these individuals often fail to solicit treatment that deals with both substance abuse treatment and psychiatric disorder therapy.  dailyRx contributing expert, LuAnn Pierce, LCSW, explains, "Socially and culturally, it is more acceptable to 'drink too much' than acknowledge one is struggling with anxiety or depression. The stigma of mental illness is significant in the US, while drinking is considered the norm for most adults. This contributes to the reluctance to seek treatment for mental health disorders until circumstances become unmanageable." 

LuAnn notes that most people do not seek help for alcoholism until they are faced with issues that "can't be ignored" such as a DUI charge, broken relationship, or job loss.  Moreover, she tells dailyRx that alcohol is frequently used to cope with anxiety and depression, and she explains, "Though alcohol may initially mask anxiety or depression, alcohol is a CNS depressant that will exacerbate underlying symptoms after a while."

"To address the problem of alcohol use in the U.S., we must begin to recognize mental health as part of our larger physical health," LuAnn explains. "Raising awareness about the link between alcohol use and psychiatric disorders would also be helpful."  

Co-morbid mental health populations suffering from substance abuse need specialized treatment.  Talk to a healthcare professional if struggling with issues of addiction, anxiety, or other behavior- and mood-related issues.  

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Reviewed by: 
Joseph V. Madia, MD
Review Date: 
January 16, 2012

Last Updated:
January 16, 2012