While We’re Focused on Opioids, Alcohol Abuse Remains a Leading Cause of Death

Did you know that according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), nearly 88,000 people “die from alcohol-related causes annually, making it the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States”? In fact, recent statistics show that alcohol abuse costs the United States roughly $250 billion a year, three quarters of that cost due to binge drinking. “Globally, alcohol misuse is the fifth leading risk factor for premature death and disability; among people between the ages of 15 and 49, it is the first.”

Although opioid abuse is troubling, we cannot afford to lose sight of othersubstance abuse issues facing our nation. In the past few years, politicians and some health experts have focused on the tragic increase in overdose deaths attributed to prescription painkiller abuse and heroin. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2014 conveyed that alcohol related deaths still outpaced deaths from overdoses of heroin and prescription painkillers.

The Washington Post reports alarming drinking trends in the US. While a full thirty percent of American adults do no drinking at all, ten percent of the population, that’s 24 million people, consume an average of 74 drinks per week, more than ten drinks per day!

Here are five things you can do if a co-worker or a loved one (or even you yourself) has a problem with alcohol, either regular misuse or binge drinking:

  1. Seek an evaluation. Detox from alcohol can not only be uncomfortable, in some cases, it can be life threatening. If you want to stop drinking, speak to a medical professional, preferably an MD who specializes in addiction treatment, to get an assessment of what you will need to safely separate yourself from alcohol.
  1. Talk to human resources. Coworkers who are intoxicated or hung over during work hours pose a threat to themselves and others. If you can, speak to the employee directly, but if that does not resolve the problem or if there is an immediate risk to others, intoxication in the workplace must be reported. Know what your workplace’s policies are for substance abuse treatment.
  1. Try to limit your drinking. One tried and true way of helping to discern whether or not you have a problem with alcohol is to limit your drinking. If you can comfortably go from a bottle of wine every evening to a glass with dinner, you may not yet have become a problem drinker. Or if this makes you uncomfortable, you may have a bigger problem than you suspected. Either way, see if you can easily cut back on your own, without substituting another substance for the alcohol.
  1. Change your environment. There is a saying, “If you hang out in the barber shop long enough, you’re going to get a haircut.” If your main place of socializing is a bar, odds are you’re going to drink more than if you spent more time at an establishment that’s main goal was something other than serving liquor. Change the focus of your social life so that alcohol is not at the center.
  1. If you need help, get it. There is no shame in asking for support overcoming your alcohol abuse problem, and you don’t have to be a fall-down drunk to need or receive help. Seek out medical and psychological professionals. There are a variety of treatment options – residential and outpatient – that may work for you.

Alcohol abuse continues to be a serious problem in the United States. Let’s be sure that all those who need help for substance abuse have access to the care that they need to regain happy, productive lives.