The National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre (NDARC) reported on Tuesday that more than three and a half million Australians will become alcohol abusers and dependents during their lifetime but only one in five of them will seek treatment.

The NDARC revealed the estimate during its annual symposium at the University of New South Wales. The report is also published in the journal Addiction.

The figure represents 22 percent of Australians and nearly one-third are men, according to the study based on data from the 2007 National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Nearly 9,000 Australians aged 16 to 85 responded to the survey.

Young men were two and a half times as likely to have current alcohol use problems as the rest of the population - with more than 11 per cent of men aged 16 to 24 reporting symptoms consistent with an alcohol use disorder over the previous 12 months, the NDARC study said.

The study said more men aged 20 to 29 are drinking at risky levels. Men born between 1978 and 1987 are 1.7 times more likely to drink at risky levels than those born ten years earlier.

The number of women aged 30 to 40 drinking alcohol has increased significantly compared with previous generations but there had been no increase in the number of these women drinking at risky levels.

About 42 per cent of Australians with alcohol problems have at least one co-existing mental illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder, the study also found. While close to half of all Australians with depression are being treated, only 22 per cent of people with alcohol related problems receive help.

NDARC's Professor Maree Teesson, lead author of the study, expressed alarm that the number of alcohol use disorder in Australia, one of the highest in the world, remained so high but there had been no increase in the number receiving treatment.

One reason for the lack of treatment is that alcohol problems still have a terrible stigma about them, said Professor Teesson. People are much less likely to want to own up to having a problem with alcohol than they are about other physical or mental illnesses, yet their abuse of alcohol has serious consequences to them personally and around them including getting into fights, drink driving, taking time off work, child neglect, getting into trouble with the Police, and driving while drunk.

Teesson said better interventions and prevention strategies for young Australians are needed and they need to know that alcohol abuse can be treated.