Socially stable individuals delay seeking help for alcohol problems

People with a stable psychosocial life situation often delay in seeking help for their alcohol problems - even though they are serious.

This is revealed in a new thesis from the University of Gothenburg.

Working actively to intervene at an early stage in order to prevent alcohol problems and to thereby promote public health is of great importance, says Kristina Berglund who is publicly defending her thesis at the Department of Psychology. It is also vital to be early in detecting those who have developed an alcohol problem but who have not yet sought treatment, i.e. those who have a "hidden" alcohol problem.

The principal factors that appear to delay these individuals from seeking attention is precisely that that they have a stable psychosocial life situation and experience themselves as being mentally healthy.

The aim of the thesis is to study socially stable individuals with problematic alcohol consumption, based on both their drinking habits and their personality and health.

The longer the period of alcohol problems, the more pronounced is the disposition towards anxiety. But this is also the case in terms of a greater number of physical and mental health problems, and also problems with work and relationships.

One issue that is investigated in the thesis is whether people who had not yet sought help for their alcohol problems were different from those who had experience of some form of treatment for their alcohol problem. A total of 367 people were interviewed.

Those who had not yet sought treatment felt better mentally. They were more often found to be cohabitant and gainfully employed than those who had sought attention for their problem. Neither had they had alcohol problems for so long. However, on the other hand, their level of consumption was comparable with those who did have experience of treatment.

In a sub-study consisting of interviews with 100 persons, Kristina Berglund has also examined personality traits in socially stable individuals with alcohol problems.

The majority did not exhibit abnormalities in their personalities. Only a small number were of a more anxious or impulsive disposition. However, several people who had had a problematic level of alcohol consumption for more than nine years were more prone to anxiety.

Another aim of the thesis was to examine whether drinking habits, psychosocial background and health were differentiated between men and women with a diagnosed alcohol dependence who were seeking treatment.

With the exception of a small number of differences in drinking habits, there were no differences between the sexes, says Kristina Berglund. When I instead conducted a comparison on the basis of different ages, it transpired that younger individuals exhibited a higher level of mental illness while older individuals suffered more from physical ill-health. In addition, the younger people had acquired alcohol problems considerably earlier in life.

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