Alcohol: America’s #1 Drug Problem
By: J. Chevonte’ Alexander
“You can’t build a new life on old thoughts and habits” ~ Unknown
Alcoholism does not discriminate – it affects people of all ages, ethnicities, genders, geographic regions and socioeconomic levels. And, too many people are still unaware that alcoholism is a disease that can be treated, just like we treat other health disorders such as diabetes and hypertension. Oddly enough, alcoholism is a chronic and often progressive disease that includes problem controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking. Long story short, alcoholism is serious and it’s time for our community to be proactive.
During the month of April, also National Alcohol Awareness Month, it is time to bring awareness and prevention to this sometimes-deadly disease. Throughout the month, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) and their local affiliates work hard to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related deaths. NCADD highlights the important public health issue of underage drinking through this year’s national theme – Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow. NCADD is celebrating their 28th year in helping to bring these issues to light and get help for our loved ones. The disease of alcoholism is a family disease that is treatable, not a moral weakness, and people can and do recover. In fact, NCADD estimates that millions of Americans and their families are living lives in recovery from alcoholism.
VIDEO: Alcohol Awareness Month
Consequences of Drinking Too Much
Unfortunately, many of us have friends or family members struggling with alcohol or dependent on alcohol.
Alcohol use by young people is extremely dangerous—both to themselves and to society, and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors. Annually, over 6,500 people under the age of 21 die from alcohol-related accidents and thousands more are injured.
- Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America’s young people, and is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined.
- Each day, 7,000 kids in the United States under the age of 16 take their first drink.
- Those who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those who begin at age 21.
- More than 1,700 college students in the U.S. are killed each year—about 4.65 a day—as a result of alcohol-related injuries.
- 25% of U.S. children are exposed to alcohol-use disorders in their family.
- Underage alcohol use costs the nation an estimated $62 billion annually.
Alcoholism and alcohol-related problems touch all Americans, directly or indirectly. No other substance is more widely used and abused by America’s youth than alcohol, making alcoholism and alcohol-related problems the number one public health problem in the United States.
Currently, nearly 14 million Americans — 1 in every 13 adults — abuse alcohol or are alcoholic. Several million more adults engage in risky drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. In addition, approximately 53 percent of men and women in the United States report that one or more of their close relatives have a drinking problem. And, in purely economic terms, alcohol use problems cost society more than $224 billion per year due to lost productivity, health care costs, business and criminal justice costs (the equivalent of $746 for every man, woman and child in the United States).
First the man takes a drink; then the drink takes a drink; then the drink takes the man.
According to the American Journal of Epidemiology, new research indicates more than 60 percent of Americans with drinking problems do not seek help due to the stigma of alcoholism. This was especially true among men, racial and ethnic minorities, and participants with lower income and education. Unfortunately, stigma is just a negative attitude imposed by society on people who it judges as not ‘normal’. It is a reaction of fear, ignorance and prejudice.
Five Myths about Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse
Myth #1: I can stop drinking anytime I want to.
Maybe you can; more likely, you can’t. Either way, it’s just an excuse to keep drinking. The truth is, you don’t want to stop. Telling yourself you can quit makes you feel in control, despite all evidence to the contrary and no matter the damage it’s doing.
Myth #2: My drinking is my problem. I’m the one it hurts, so no one has the right to tell me to stop.
It’s true that the decision to quit drinking is up to you. But you are deceiving yourself if you think that your drinking hurts no one else but you. Alcoholism affects everyone around you—especially the people closest to you. Your problem is their problem.
Myth #3: I don’t drink every day, so I can’t be an alcoholic OR I only drink wine or beer, so I can’t be an alcoholic.
Alcoholism is NOT defined by what you drink, when you drink it, or even how much you drink. It’s the EFFECTS of your drinking that define a problem. If your drinking is causing problems in your home or work life, you have a drinking problem—whether you drink daily or only on the weekends, down shots of tequila or stick to wine, drink three bottles of beers a day or three bottles of whiskey.
Myth #4: I’m not an alcoholic because I have a job and I’m doing okay.
You don’t have to be homeless and drinking out of a brown paper bag to be an alcoholic. Many alcoholics are able to hold down jobs, get through school, and provide for their families. Some are even able to excel. But just because you’re a high-functioning alcoholic doesn’t mean you’re not putting yourself or others in danger. Over time, the effects will catch up with you.
Myth #5: Drinking is not a “real” addiction like drug abuse.
Alcohol is a drug, and alcoholism is every bit as damaging as drug addiction. Alcohol addiction causes changes in the body and brain, and long-term alcohol abuse can have devastating effects on your health, your career, and your relationships. Alcoholics go through physical withdrawal when they stop drinking, just like drug users do when they quit.
VIDEO: That’s Right, Addiction is a Disease
Awareness and Prevention
Alcoholism and alcohol-related problems have become the number one public health problem in the United States. Addressing this issue requires a sustained and cooperative effort between parents, schools, colleges, community leaders, and our youth. The widespread prevalence of underage drinking and the negative consequences it creates remain a stubborn and destructive problem despite decades of efforts to combat it.
Yet, there are four areas that have proven to be effective in prevention of this
- Curtailing the availability of alcohol to underage populations;
- Consistent enforcement of existing laws and regulations regarding alcohol purchase;
- Changing cultural misconceptions and behaviors about alcohol use through education; and
- Expanded access to treatment and recovery support for adolescents and their families.
But, time is running out. Studies reveal that alcohol consumption by adolescents results in brain damage – possibly permanent – and impairs intellectual development.
So, let’s get started providing “Help for Today. Hope for Tomorrow.” We can’t afford to wait any longer.
(Sources:National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD), HelpGuide.org, MayoClinic.com)