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National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA)

NIAAA Spectrum: New NESARC data providing key information on prevalence of alcohol and substance abuse


The NIAAA-sponsored National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions–III (NESARC–III), conducted from 2012 to 2013, is the newest wave of the largest study ever conducted on alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drug use and disorders; related risk factors; and associated physical and mental disabilities. With data on more than 36,000 U.S. adults, NESARC–III promises to be a primary source of information for scientists throughout the United States, many of whom used earlier NESARC data in hundreds of studies across multiple disciplines and disease areas. Indeed, several important studies using NESARC–III data have recently been published by NIAAA scientists led by Bridget Grant, Ph.D., Ph.D., Chief of NIAAA’s Laboratory of Epidemiology and Biometry. Dr. Grant has directed NIAAA’s NESARC survey since its inception in 2001, and she and her colleagues routinely publish NESARC findings across broad areas of substance abuse and mental health.

In April of this year, Dr. Grant’s group reported results of a study in which they used NESARC–III data to examine the prevalence, correlates, psychiatric comorbidity, and treatment of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders— Fifth Edition (DSM–5) nicotine use disorder (NUD) and the public health burden of U.S. cigarette consumption among adults with NUD and other psychiatric disorders. As Dr. Grant’s group reported in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, the prevalences of 12-month and lifetime DSM–5 NUD were 20.0 percent and 27.9 percent, respectively. NUD was more common among men, nonHispanic whites, younger individuals, previously married individuals, those with less education and lower incomes, and residents of rural areas. The 11.1 percent of U.S. adults who have current NUD and at least 1 psychiatric disorder were found to consume more than 50 percent of all cigarettes smoked in the United States. Only about 20 percent of individuals with 12-month NUD sought treatment, as did about 19 percent of those with lifetime NUD. Dr. Grant and her colleagues conclude that their findings underscore the need to address nicotine use in clinical settings and that recognizing psychiatrically vulnerable subpopulations may inform efforts to prevent and treat NUD. 

In March, Dr. Grant’s group published findings of a study that analyzed marijuana use data from NESARC–III. Their analyses found that 2.5 percent of adults—nearly 6 million people— experienced marijuana use disorder in the past year, while 6.3 percent had met the diagnostic criteria for the disorder at some point in their lives. Consistent with previous findings, the new report showed that marijuana use disorder is about twice as common among men than women and that younger age groups are much more likely to experience the disorder than people ages 45 and older. The risk for onset of the disorder was found to peak during late adolescence and among people in their early 20s, with remission occurring within 3 to 4 years. Also in keeping with previous findings, the new study found that past-year and lifetime marijuana use disorders were strongly and consistently associated with other substance use and mental health disorders.

Reprinted from the NIAAA Spectrum, Volume 8, Issue 2, June 2016.

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