The severity of alcohol dependence can be estimated by the number of DSM-IV criteria that are fulfilled for this disorder. This paper describes the proportions in a general population sample that meet different numbers of diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence and their association with drinking and social background factors.
Data came from a random, cross-sectional, self-report survey of adults from 12 Swedish communities. 28,800 persons, age 19–70, were surveyed through postal questionnaires. 14,706 questionnaires (51%) could be used for analysis. Alcohol dependence was assessed by questions relating to the seven DSM-IV criteria for alcohol dependence. Alcohol consumption and social background factors were examined in relation to alcohol dependence.
A total of 73.8% of the general population fulfilled no criteria for alcohol dependence; 4.0% reported 3 or more criteria and qualified for the diagnosis of alcohol dependence. There were trends toward an increasing number of dependence criteria with increasing consumption levels and negative social background factors. The majority of people with alcohol dependence however did not drink at the highest consumption levels, did not live alone, and were not unemployed.
Given the current definition of alcohol dependence the majority of people have few criteria fulfilled (3 or 4) and few social problems. This has important implications for treatment as dependence with low severity may require less treatment and less specialist involvement.
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