A study in the January 2000 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (Volume 90, Number 1) reports that approximately one in four U.S. children (19 million children or 28.6 percent of children 0-17 years) is exposed at some time before age 18 to familial alcohol dependence (alcoholism), alcohol abuse, or both.
"The design and methods of today's report provide the most precise estimate to date of children affected by family alcohol problems," said Enoch Gordis, M.D., Director, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. "Given the prevalence of alcohol abuse and alcoholism in the U.S. adult population, however, the number of exposed children shocks but regrettably does not surprise."
Estimated past-year and lifetime prevalence of adult alcohol use disorders (alcohol abuse and alcoholism) and children exposed to those disorders were based on the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (NLAES), a survey of 42,862 respondents conducted in conjunction with the 1992 census. Researchers used the Alcohol Use Disorders and Associated Disabilities Interview Schedule (AUDADIS) to assess the presence of alcohol dependence (characterized by impaired control over drinking, tolerance, withdrawal syndrome when alcohol is removed, neglect of normal activities for drinking, and continued drinking despite recurrent related physical or psychological problems) and alcohol abuse (characterized by clinically significant impairment or distress that does not entail physical dependence) according to standard diagnostic criteria. NIAAA earlier reported (see "NIAAA Releases New Estimates of Alcohol Abuse and Dependence," February 1995) that 7.1 percent of American adults (14 million persons aged 18 and older) met standard diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence or alcohol abuse during 1992. Approximately 18.2 percent of adults were estimated to experience an episode of alcohol abuse or dependence at some time during their lives.
For today's report, Bridget F. Grant, Ph.D., Ph.D., Division of Biometry and Epidemiology, NIAAA, determined from the 1992 NLAES data that approximately 15 percent of children under age 18 (about 10 million children) were exposed to familial alcohol abuse or dependence during 1992. Dr. Grant also determined that 43 percent of children under age 18 (more than 28 million children) lived in households with one or more adults who at some time during their lives had experienced alcohol abuse or alcohol dependence. Assuming that the best estimate lies between these two extremes, Dr. Grant determined that approximately one in four children is exposed to alcohol abuse and/or dependence in the family at some time prior to age 18.
Research has shown that families with an alcoholic member live in environments that are disorganized and unstable, said Dr. Grant. "Children of alcoholics may be neglected or abused and frequently face economic hardship and social isolation. They also are vulnerable to psychopathology and medical problems, including an increased risk for themselves developing alcohol abuse or alcohol alcoholism."
According to Dr. Gordis, "These findings once again call attention to the enormous impact of alcohol in our country and the need to confront its social, health, and economic consequences head on."
For an interview with Dr. Grant or Dr. Gordis, telephone NIAAA Press (301/443-3860 or 301/443-0595). For additional information about alcohol abuse and alcoholism, visit http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/ .