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The Elephant in the Addiction Room

May 25, 2019

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There’s an elephant in the addiction room, and it’s not drugs.

While we lose 192 loved ones to drug overdose every single day,  when we factor in alcohol we are losing more than 400 people every day to substance use. Alcohol is now the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States. (1)

The thought of hearing about one plane crashing on the news is enough to make our country feel somber, so why are we not giving this major health problem the attention it deserves?

“New research shows that nearly 20 percent of all American  adults participate in binge drinking - and when they do, they go hard. The American Journal of Prevention Medicine reports that U.S. adults consume more than 17 billion binge drinks* each year. That’s about 470 binge drinks per for everyone of those 20% of US adults.” (2)

Americans are drinking more than we used to and with 44 national days dedicated to alcohol throughout the year, are we really surprised? There are more National Drinking Days than National Health, Wellness and Drug and Alcohol Awareness days combined.

alcohol bistro signBars, restaurants, or any public place that serves alcohol have created a new lexicon to provide potential patrons with a pre-formatted excuse to drink every day of the week: “Margarita Monday,” “Tequila Tuesday,” “Wine Down Wednesday,” “Thirsty Thursday” and “Sunday Funday” are a few examples. Instead of signage detailing the day’s specials, they use phrases that are meant to make us laugh and motivate us to connect through alcohol -- “uncork and unwind,” “But first, Beer,” and “Alcohol: Because no great story ever began with a salad.”

Heavy drinking or “binge drinking”* is defined as more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week. According to the Mayo Clinic, heavy drinking is defined as more than three drinks on any day or more than seven drinks a week. (3)

So what’s the harm in having three drinks a day?

As alcohol use continues, the risk of developing a substance use disorder (SUD) increases . This can affect your mental and physical health, overall quality of life, and put you at risk for other health related problems. SUD’s are different for different people; there are several levels of severity, much like diseases with well-known stages such as cancer.

Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, liver disease and cancer. (4) In 2018, National Public Radio reported that there was a spike in liver disease deaths among young adults. The culprit? Alcohol. “The analysis revealed that deaths from liver-related illnesses have increased dramatically, and mortality in young people rose the fastest. Although these illnesses can be caused by several factors  including obesity and hepatitis C infection, the rise among young Americans was caused directly by alcohol consumption”. (5)

We need to start paying attention to our own alcohol consumption. To the plane crashes in our backyards. It’s important to know the signs that you or a loved one may be developing an alcohol use disorder. Some signs include:

  • Disinterest in activities that were previously enjoyable
  • Change in daily routine
  • Changes in mood
  • Change in weight or appearance
  • Change in sexual behavior
  • Change in eating or sleeping habits
  • A decline in performance at work or school
  • Change in peer group
  • Secrecy regarding phone
  • A tendency to disappear for hours at a time
  • Deteriorating relationships
  • Inability to be present when in conversation

Because substance use disorders are progressive, meaning they worsen with time, intervening in the early stages greatly increases the likelihood that you or someone you care about  will recover. Take warning signs seriously and don’t wait for the disease to get worse before having an honest conversation with your loved one and encouraging  them get an assessment, the critical first step. If you need help with that conversation, our Addiction Resource Center helpline which connects you with trained counselors, is a perfect place to start: 1-833-301-HELP (4357).

400 lost every day to addiction is 400 too many. We have to turn this around. So why not replace alcohol-related vernacular with“Cork it”? “But first, a hike.” That sounds amazing. And “Salad: Because too many stories start with alcohol.” Together, we can solve this.


Sources:

  1. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Alcohol Facts and Statistics. Retrieved from https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-facts-and-statistics
  2. Dvorsky, George. (2018). America’s Binge-Drinking Problem is Even Worse Than We Thought. Retrieved from https://gizmodo.com/americas-binge-drinking-problem-is-even-worse-than-we-t-1823838748
  3. Mayo Clinic. (2018). Alcohol: Weighing risks and potential benefits. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/alcohol/art-20044551
  4. Loma Linda University Health. (2019). Alcohol Awareness Month: Recognizing the signs of excessive drinking. Retrieved from https://news.llu.edu/clinical/alcohol-awareness-month-recognize-signs-of-excessive-drinking?fbclid=IwAR3jAY60ihG3870RJ0QQ_grZ84kirMCafE8H7h4o-cFOOd3SWrD-_K-nODc
  5. Chisholm, Paul. (2018). A Spike In Liver Disease Deaths Among Young Adults Fueled By Alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2018/07/18/630275042/a-spike-in-liver-disease-deaths-among-young-adults-fueled-by-alcohol
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Lindsey Messina

Lindsey was born and raised in New Hampshire, the oldest of five, and she's always found the need to help others grow. Lindsey volunteers her time at a non-profit community center Austin17House, creating a place for young and old to enjoy themselves and be supported in their gifts to help map out their dreams. Lindsey brings this passion to Addiction Policy Forum where she’s helping to build solutions, resources and answers to those wanting to make a difference in their communities.