Prevalence of at-risk drinking recognition: A systematic review and meta-analysis

Drug Alcohol Depend. 2022 Jun 1:235:109449. doi: 10.1016/j.drugalcdep.2022.109449. Epub 2022 Apr 9.


Background: There is a prominent "treatment gap" in relation to at-risk drinking (ARD), whereby a minority of at-risk drinkers ever access treatment. Research suggests that recognition of problem drinking is a necessary precursor for help-seeking and treatment.

Objective: This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to estimate the prevalence of ARD recognition within those meeting criteria for ARD.

Method: PsycINFO, Web of Science, Scopus, and MEDLINE were searched using the terms: problem* AND (recogni* OR perceive* OR perception OR self-identif*) AND alcohol - to identify studies published in English between 2000 and 2022. Studies reported the frequency (weighted or unweighted) of participants meeting ARD criteria that also directly identified ARD, perceived a need for help, or endorsed a readiness to change. The prevalence of ARD recognition was estimated using a random-effects meta-analysis with 95% confidence intervals (CIs).

Results: 17 studies were included which provided data for 33,349 participants with ARD. Most (n = 14) were US studies. ARD was self-identified via a single indicator in 7 studies, whereas recognition was assessed via stages of change in 4 studies and need for help in 6 studies. The pooled prevalence of ARD recognition was 31% (95% CI: 25%-36%), and subgroup analyses indicated alcohol use severity, measure of recognition, and population type to be significant sources of heterogeneity.

Conclusions: Most individuals with ARD fail to recognise their drinking problem so preventive approaches that promote recognition may be helpful. However, we must be cautious of how inconsistency in question framing affects self-reported problem recognition.

Keywords: Alcohol; Prevalence; Problem recognition; Self-identification.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology
  • Alcohol Drinking / prevention & control
  • Alcoholism* / epidemiology
  • Ethanol
  • Humans
  • Prevalence


  • Ethanol