Few heavy drinkers get drugs to help curb alcohol use

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Less than one in 10 people with alcohol use disorders get prescribed medications that help people drink less and avoid binges, a U.S. study suggests.

One in four American adults binges on alcohol at least once a month, and one in 15 binges five or more times a month, researchers report in JAMA. For males, binging means consuming at least five standard drinks on a single occasion; for females; it means consuming four standard drinks on one occasion.

Even though there are three medications approved to treat alcohol use disorders in the U.S., most people only get treated with counseling.

Because alcohol use disorder is stigmatized, people generally don’t tell doctors that they drink heavily, and physicians tend not to ask, said study co-author Dr. Henry Kranzler, director of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Even when patients do get diagnosed with a drinking problem, treatment is often fragmented and inaccessible, Kranzler said by email.

Only about 8 percent of people with serious drinking problems get care in an alcohol treatment facility. And less than 9 percent receive prescriptions for drugs that might help them cut back or stop drinking.