Here’s Why We Need to Address Alcohol Addiction in the U.S.
In April 1987, Mary Mann, an alcoholic in recovery, founded the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Her goal was to help people find and get treatment from alcohol addiction. The Council’s initial focus was on educating college students who were prone to binge drinking. Since then, the movement has become so popular that the month of April was designated to be Alcohol Awareness Month.
During Alcohol Awareness Month, the Council focuses on increasing awareness, communication, and action around the use and treatment of Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) nationwide. Its hope is that these efforts result in proactive and lasting change that reduces our society’s dependence on alcohol.
Even though Alcohol Awareness Month was created 33 years ago, alcohol continues to be the most used and aused addictive drug in the U.S.
Taking a Look at Alcohol Use in America
To put the prevalence of alcohol use in perspective, there are 81,000 annual opioid overdoses per year versus more than 95,000 deaths from excessive alcohol use in the U.S. annually. According to the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this equates to 261 deaths per day. These deaths shorten these victims lives by an average of almost 29 years – which is a total of 2.8 million years of potential life lost.
Alcohol Use Disorder is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States.
Research shows that alcohol use due during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a 14% increase in alcohol use compared with a year ago. Another recent study conducted by the American Psychological Association found that nearly one in four adults reported drinking more to manage pandemic stress.
A few other key statistics to consider:
- NCADD reports that one in every 12 adults, or 17.6 million people, use or are dependent on alcohol
- Pre-COVID, up to 40 percent of all hospital beds in the U.S. were used to treat health conditions directly related to alcohol consumption (Thefix)
- Drunk driving is still the #1 cause of death on our roadways, taking the lives of 10,142 Americans in 2019 – that’s 29 people killed a day, or one person every 50 minutes (MADD)
- The CDC estimates that 37 million US adults—or 1 in 6—binge drink about once a week, consuming an average of 7 drinks per binge
The CDC defines binge drinking as “drinking 5 or more drinks on an occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on an occasion for women” or heavy drinking as “drinking 15 or more drinks per week for men or 8 or more drinks per week for women.”
According to the CDC:
- Binge drinking is responsible for almost half the alcohol-related deaths and three-quarters of the costs due to excessive alcohol use
- People who binge drank were nearly twice as likely to misuse prescription opioids as non-drinkers
- Studies have shown that binge and heavy drinking are associated with an increased risk of many health problems such as liver disease, high blood pressure, heart disease, and higher chances of breast, throat, esophagus, or colon cancer.
- With these statistics in mind, it’s clear how important, and necessary, platforms such as Alcohol Awareness Month are. It is also clear that the conversations around alcohol and addiction must continue.
If It’s so Dangerous, Then Why Is it Essential?
Based on the data, and given the prevalence of alcohol in our culture, one can understand how and why binge drinking and addiction happens.
“Alcohol is our favorite drug. It’s also the drug of choice for people who write the laws. Alcohol is like wallpaper in our society: it’s so prevalent, people stop noticing it’s there,” says David Jernigan, a Boston University School of Public Health professor of health law, policy, and management.
Alcohol is a part of nearly every social event, meal, and gathering, and has now been deemed an essential serviceduring the COVID-19 pandemic. That’s right. The same drug that is one of the leading causes of preventable death in our country is also classified as essential.
It should come as no surprise that alcohol sales rose dramatically in the U.S. during the early stages of the pandemic. Research conducted by scientists at the University of Southern California (USC) and published in the journal, Annals of Internal Medicine, found that the sale of alcohol between April and June 2020 jumped 34% compared to the same period of time in 2019. (Forbes.com)
Yes, while some may think that alcohol helps us cope with stress, anxiety, and depression by changing our mood, it can actually trigger deep depression, intractable anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness and loss. Although it is one of the most powerful drugs known to humankind, it comes with no instructions for use or adequate health warnings.
If something is risky, can it really be essential?
The quick answer is yes. It is essential for those who are addicted. Without alcohol, these people could undergo withdrawal that could ultimately be extremely dangerous or even fatal. On the other hand, answering this question may not be as straightforward for the rest of the population. Some people consume alcohol in moderation and can partake responsibly, but because alcohol is so readily available, we often forget that it is a drug with the potential for addiction, dangerous risks, and other problems.
Quite often, there is not enough understanding and recognition around the ideas that:
- Alcohol is the most widely available and commonly used drug
- Alcoholism is a disease that can be treated and prevented
Participating in Alcohol Awareness Month
All of this brings us to the undeniable need for Alcohol Awareness Month and other important initiatives. We all benefit from a deeper understanding of such an important, consequential, and far-reaching public health issue.
Based on the statistics, it’s clear that an increased level of education and consciousness around alcoholism and alcohol-related issues is necessary and will position us more appropriately to tackle the issue. If we don’t address the need and underlying causes for alcohol addiction, who knows how many more lives and families will be impacted?
According to the NCADD, anyone can participate in Alcohol Awareness Month initiatives. Communities and families can start and continue the important discussions about adopting a healthy and responsible attitude toward alcohol. Organizations such as schools, faith-based groups, substance use facilities, and youth groups, can create events, meetings, and resources to increase awareness and reduce the stigma associated with alcohol addiction.
Here at Progressive Institute, we are here to support you or your loved ones’ recovery journey. As a dual-licensed, JACHO accredited, psychiatric and addiction outpatient facility specializing in a range of services, please don’t hesitate to reach out with your questions or concerns. Our mission is to provide comprehensive and affordable care, education, support, and resources so that you and your loved one can live healthy and happy.
Contact us today at 203-816-6424 or click here for how we can support you during Alcohol Awareness Month and beyond.