Even as alcohol use disorder (AUD) remains a serious health issue, many Americans are struggling to access medications to help them combat it, new findings show.
The study, which was published by JAMA Psychiatry, looked at the availability of three specific medications to treat AUD.
Researchers collected data from 42,739 adults ages 18 and older who participated in the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), which was conducted by the Substance Addiction and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). All individuals who participated in the study had, at the time, been receiving treatment for AUD within the previous year.
The three medications for AUD examined in the study were acamprosate, disulfiram and naloxone.
The study found that 14.1 million adults reported having AUD, representing 5.6% of adults nationwide.
Of those adults, only 7.3% reported receiving any AUD treatment, and an even smaller percentage — 1.6% — reported using medications for AUD as part of their treatment regimen. Additionally, the use of medication for AUD was associated with living in large metropolitan areas, frequently visiting emergency departments, being alcohol dependent and receiving mental health care.
Emily Einstein, who is chief of the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Science Policy Branch, was one of the study’s authors. She believes that a significant barrier to accessing medications for AUD lies within the stigma that many people feel in seeking treatment.
“Stigma is a huge factor that plays a role across that hopeful cascade of care,” Einstein told the health care publication Verywell Health. “The person who has the addiction to alcohol might not want to admit that they have it because it’s so stigmatizing. And then healthcare providers interact with patients in a way that’s different than other diseases.”
Einstein believes that stigma issues could be resolved by improving the awareness about the benefits of AUD treatment medications.
“Lingering and outdated ideas that taking a medication is similar to taking a substance, or that you’re replacing one addiction with another, is not the case,” she told Verywell. “That really strong negative attitude around taking medication for addiction can impede people from seeking care.”