BACKGROUND: Despite its potential to produce serious adverse outcomes, DSM-5 alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) has not been widely studied in the general population.
METHODS: We used cross-sectional data from 36,309 U.S. adults from the 2012-2013 National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III to examine the past-year prevalence of AWS and its correlates. We focused on an important clinical population-past-year drinkers with unhealthy alcohol use-i.e., those with a positive score on the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test-Consumption (AUDIT-C) questionnaire. We also examined the association of AWS with sociodemographic measures, psychiatric disorders, alcohol-related measures, and healthcare utilization.
RESULTS: Approximately one-third (n = 12,634) of respondents reported unhealthy alcohol use (AUDIT-C+). Of these, 14.3% met criteria for a DSM-5 AWS diagnosis. The mean (SE) number of withdrawal symptoms among individuals with AWS was 2.83 (1.88), with the most common being nausea/vomiting and insomnia (19.8% and 11.6%, respectively). Among AUDIT-C+ respondents, the odds of AWS were significantly higher among males (adjusted odds ratio [aOR] = 1.17 [95% CI, 1.02-1.33]), unmarried participants (aOR = 1.55 [95% CI, 1.25-1.92]), and those at the lowest (vs. highest) income levels (aOR = 1.62 [95% CI, 1.37-1.92]). Among AUDIT-C+ respondents, AWS was also associated with psychiatric disorders (with aORs that ranged from 2.08 [95% CI, 1.79-2.41]) for major depressive disorder to 3.14 (95% CI, 1.79-2.41) for borderline personality disorder. AUDIT-C+ respondents with AWS also had higher odds of past-year alcohol use disorder (aOR = 11.2 [95% CI, 9.66-13.07]), other alcohol-related features (e.g., binge drinking), and healthcare utilization.
CONCLUSIONS: Among individuals with unhealthy alcohol use, AWS is prevalent, highly comorbid, and disabling. Given the risk of AWS among unhealthy drinkers, a comparatively large segment of the general population, clinicians should seek to identify individuals with AWS and intervene with them to prevent serious adverse outcomes.
Alcohol withdrawal in past-year drinkers with unhealthy alcohol use: Prevalence, characteristics, and correlates in a national epidemiologic survey
Alcoholism, Clinical and Experimental Research, 46 (3), 422-433. doi: 10.1111/acer.14781. PMCID: PMC8928097.