The escalating opioid epidemic in the United States has been making a lot of headlines in recent months, and justifiably so. Drug overdose deaths just passed another grim threshold: in 2015, drug overdose fatalities in the US went beyond the 50,000 mark for the first time. In March, President Trump asked New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to chair a commission to help fight the opioid epidemic.
Premature deaths resulting from alcohol misuse are not getting the same kind of attention but the numbers are equally troubling. According to the Surgeon General’s report on addiction, “alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year.” One in ten deaths among working adults are due to alcohol abuse.
Alcohol misuse is the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the nation. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 15 million adults were addicted to alcohol in 2015. But only 1.3 million people received treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD) at a specialized facility in 2015, suggesting most people with an alcohol addiction do not receive treatment. This clearly has to change.
Physicians often recognize the problem but are unsure how to manage it. “Alcohol is the most common problem that I encounter as a primary care doctor, and the one that I feel least able to manage, writes Dr. Elisabeth Poorman on WBUR. “My ineffectiveness is all the more frustrating as addiction deaths continue to rise, contributing to the first drop in the American population's life expectancy in generations.”
Dr. Poorman believes the medical community as a whole is not taking unhealthy alcohol use seriously enough, despite the fact that alcohol kills more people than all illicit drugs combined.
Better Awareness and Access to Treatment
Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month every April to increase public awareness and understanding, reduce stigma and encourage local communities to focus on alcohol misuse and alcohol-related issues. This year’s theme is “Connecting the Dots: Opportunities for Recovery.”
“Alcohol and drug use by young people is extremely dangerous--both to themselves and to society,” warns NCADD. It is “directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction.”
If the alcohol use that started in high school as risky experimentation escalates in later years, youthful misuse can turn into addiction, especially in the presence of stress or trauma. Too many people still believe in the cliché of the alcoholic skid row derelict but an alcohol use disorder can happen to anybody. It can emerge from careless binge drinking in college or sneak up on stressed-out mothers with young children.
Addiction to any substance is a biopsychosocial disease with a genetic component. It afflicts people of all ages and social backgrounds and is not a choice or a sign of moral failure. Fighting addiction requires modern, evidence-based treatment methods.
At Decision Point Center, treatment for substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions includes many cutting-edge clinical and holistic therapies. Each patient receives an individualized treatment plan that is tailored specifically to their needs to give them the best possible chance of achieving a lasting and lifelong recovery.