The number of people treated for addiction to alcohol or drugs dropped for the first time in six years during 2003, the federal government reported Monday.
The drop occurred primarily because of a significant decline in admissions for alcohol abuse.
The bad news highlighted within the report, which was released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, was a spike in admissions for methamphetamine use.
The findings for both alcohol and meth continued trends that began at least a decade earlier.
In 1993, the number of people treated for alcohol addiction numbered more than 921,000. Almost every year since then, that number has dropped, including in 2003 when admissions dropped about 6 percent to about 768,000.
Officials warned against concluding that alcohol abuse is becoming less of a problem in the United States. Jennifer DeVallance, a spokeswoman for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said another annual study that surveys alcohol and drug use shows no statistically significant decrease in alcohol use.
The trend may reflect shifts in state funds from treatment of alcohol abusers to treatment of drug abusers. Officials also note that the government data does not include all admissions for substance abuse treatment. In general, the numbers reflect only those patients treated at facilities that receive public funding for treatment services.
"Clearly, from the data, fewer people are in treatment for alcohol as their primary drug of abuse," said SAMHSA administrator Charles Curie. "At the same time there has been a large increase in methamphetamine and prescription drugs as primary reasons for treatment. The majority of people come to treatment with more than one drug of abuse, and alcohol may well be one of them."
Officials used the report to highlight the increase in the number of people treated for methamphetamine addiction.
Treatment for methamphetamine use has soared nearly every year since 1993, when there were nearly 21,000 admissions. By 2003, there were 116,600 admissions directly connected to methamphetamine.
Curie said the growth in methamphetamine use can be explained by the drug's wide availability, ease of production, low cost and highly addictive nature.