Even though the vast majority of people with alcohol use disorder see their doctors regularly for a range of issues, fewer than one in 10 ever get treatment for drinking, according to a new study.

Some 16 million Americans are believed to have alcohol use disorder, and an estimated 93,000 people in the US die from alcohol-related causes each year. Both of those numbers are expected to grow as a result of heavier drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Researchers analyzed data gathered from 2015 through 2019 via the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and found that about 8% of those surveyed met the current criteria for alcohol use disorder, the medical diagnosis for those with an addiction to alcohol.

Of these people who met the criteria, 81% had received medical care in a doctor’s office or spent time in a hospital or clinic during the previous year. But only 12% reported they had been advised to cut down on their drinking, 5% were offered information about treatment, and 6% received treatment, some of whom did not receive a referral from their doctor but sought out treatment on their own.

“It’s not that these people aren’t in the health care system,” says Carrie M. Mintz, assistant professor of psychiatry at Washington University in St. Louis and first author of the study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. “But although they see doctors regularly, the vast majority aren’t getting the help they need.”

Mintz and colleagues evaluated data from 214,505 people with and without alcohol problems. They first wanted to learn whether people with alcohol use disorder had access to health care and if they did, whether they had been screened about their alcohol use. The researchers considered people to have been screened if their doctors simply asked how much they drink.

The researchers also evaluated whether people with drinking problems had been advised to cut down on drinking, had received additional information about treatment, or had received treatment or counseling. They found that although most people with alcohol use disorder had access to health care and although 70% reported they had been asked about alcohol use, that’s where the care stopped.

Read the full article about alcohol use disorders by Jim Dryden at Futurity.