July 3rd, 2014

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study last week that reminded us of the tremendous impact that alcohol problems have on Americans. The CDC is the federal agency that brings a national, population based focus to diseases ranging from infections to addictions.

Opioid addiction continues to get the attention it deserves (Maryland just released data about an 88 percent increase in heroin fatalities in the state.). However, it is important that the magnitude of the damage done by alcohol problems not get pushed out of awareness, given that the role that it plays in illness and premature deaths greatly outweighs all substances other than tobacco.

The CDC study documents once again that alcohol is a leading cause of premature deaths in this country, being a factor in at least 10 percent of adult deaths. Here are some specifics of alcohol problems that I think are worth noting:

  • Many of the deaths were attributable to binge drinking, which is done by both alcoholics and non-alcoholics.
  • This supports the idea that in addition to focusing on alcoholics, preventive efforts should also be directed to people who use alcohol in dangerous ways but who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for an Alcohol Use Disorder.
  • This finding was particularly prominent among those ages 21 and younger.
  • Recommendations to address this problem include increasing alcohol prices by raising alcohol taxes, enforcing commercial host liability and regulating alcohol outlet density

The findings and recommendations fly in the face of the continued cultural popularity of binge drinking and the traditional political unpopularity of reducing access to alcohol. While limits as extreme as prohibition have too many counterproductive consequences, more nuanced interventions have data to support their effectiveness in reducing morbidity and mortality.

Of course, all of this pales in comparison with the health consequences of tobacco, which gets even less attention than alcohol problems do. Contact us to learn more about alcohol problems.

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