A sobering reality: Alcohol kills more Americans each year than drug overdoses do
America has a drinking problem, but our nation’s overdose crisis has shifted attention away from our national hangover.
It’s time to focus on this long overlooked problem.
Drug overdose deaths rose nearly 30% in 2020 to 93,000, according to preliminary statistics released in July by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But an estimated 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes annually, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) . Alcohol is the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
As we observe National Recovery Month throughout September, it’s important to recognize the scope of America’s alcohol dependence and help those with alcohol use disorder. Our nation’s wellbeing is at stake.
Americans are too alcohol dependent
It’s no wonder people want to drown their sorrows. The pandemic has devastated so many families. It created enormous stress and economic uncertainty. It caused widespread fear, anguish and needless political battles. When we thought we were getting a handle on COVID-19, along came the delta variant.
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A nationwide survey commissioned by the American Psychological Association in February found that nearly 1 in 4 adults reported drinking more this past year to manage their stress.
General alcohol consumption increased 39% from February 2020 to November, according to a new study by the nonprofit research institute RTI International and funded by the NIAAA . Binge drinking increased 30% during the same period.
More than 14 million adults ages 18 and older had alcohol use disorder in 2019, according to the NIAAA.
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Here’s our challenge – we’ve normalized drinking. Happy hours at our favorite watering holes, cookouts, weddings, birthday parties, baseball games and tailgating, you name it – we find lots of opportunities to enjoy a cold one. Or three. And so often we simply embrace the moment.
Do you use opioids? You have a substance use challenge. Do you drink too much? You like to have a good time.
But alcohol dependence represents a more insidious threat than we are willing to acknowledge – to our health, our families and our livelihoods. For women and minorities, it’s an even greater threat.
The RTI International study found that the largest increases in average consumption occurred among women with children younger than 5 (323%), Black women (173%), Black men (173%) and Hispanic women (148%).
Time to sober up, America
Unfortunately, alcohol use disorder is a difficult topic to discuss in America. Drinking remains widely accepted, and alcohol is easy to obtain. The widespread availability of alcohol, coupled with clever marketing, makes it nearly impossible to avoid. Consumers must constantly fight the temptation – not to mention the expectation – that they raise a glass.
This is America, and the party never ends. And dangerous opioids like fentanyl attract the attention of public health officials.
Alcohol is no less dangerous. It’s merely allowed, pervasive and socially acceptable. Alcohol marketers control the narrative. Good luck persuading consumers to reduce their alcohol consumption without seeming reactionary.
It’s tough to change the narrative, but too many Americans are drinking themselves to death. It’s time to sober up, America.
Many resources exist to provide help for those with alcohol use disorder and for parents and practitioners, including:
► The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism , which has a free website called Rethinking Drinking that can help you find doctors, therapists, support groups and other ways to get treatment for a drinking problem.
► Responsibility.org , which provides information and awareness intended to eliminate drunken driving.
► STOP Underage Drinking interagency portal, the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Prevention of Underage Drinking.
Chuck Ingoglia, MSW, is the president and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing .
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: A sobering reality: Alcohol kills more Americans each year than drug overdoses do