Alcohol abuse is a widespread issue in the United States. Even though it’s legal for individuals over age 21 to purchase and drink alcohol, many consume alcohol at levels that pose safety and health risks for themselves and others. Excessive alcohol use can cause serious health problems, and for some may lead to dependence.
Alcohol abuse can affect people of all ages, and problems associated with alcohol dependence can take a toll on the individual as well as his/her family, children, workplace and community.
Alcohol abuse is not a respecter of gender, nationality, age or belief system; it affects members from all walks of life. Almost 29 million people report that they drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year. Men were nearly twice as likely as women to drive under the influence (15 vs. 8 percent). The drunk driving rate was highest among people age 21 to 25 (22 percent), but 13.5 percent of 18- to 20-year-olds took this risk as well. Alcohol is a factor in almost one-third (31 percent) of fatal motor vehicle crashes.
There is a direct correlation between alcohol abuse and drug abuse: individuals who drink heavily (e.g., binge drinking on at least 5 days in the past 30 days) are more likely to use illicit drugs. Among the 16 million heavy drinkers in the U.S., almost a third (31 percent) are current illicit drug users. More than half (55 percent) of heavy alcohol users age 12 or older smoke cigarettes, compared to only 18 percent of current drinkers who smoke but don’t binge drink. Smokeless tobacco use and cigar use also were more prevalent among heavy drinkers (11.7 and 15.2 percent, respectively).
Parents and adults who abuse alcohol expose their families to negative consequences. When parents drink to excess, their children are more likely to use alcohol excessively as they grow up.
A recent study has shown that 16- and 17-year-olds living with parents who drive under the influence of alcohol or drugs are more likely to drive under the influence themselves, versus adolescents whose parents did not drive under the influence. A parent’s abuse of alcohol can lead to child abuse, neglect, injuries and deaths due to motor vehicle accidents.
For anyone who drinks alcohol in excess, there are severe health consequences. Alcohol abuse can lead to dependency, also known as alcoholism. Signs of alcoholism include a high tolerance to alcohol leading to increasingly excessive alcohol consumption, along with withdrawal symptoms that include anxiety, shakiness, sweating, nausea, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or headache if alcohol isn’t used. Excessive drinking is known to cause serious liver damage and also to affect the nervous system, muscles, lungs, pancreas and heart. It is also linked directly to an increased risk of diabetes, cardiovascular problems and chronic diseases related to a lowered immune system.
Remember those numbers — 17, 58 and 80,000? According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), almost 17 million people ages 12 or older (23 percent) are classified with alcohol dependence. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) of individuals age 12 or older — more than 58 million people — participated in binge drinking at least once in the last 30 days. Lastly, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says excessive alcohol consumption is associated with approximately 80,000 deaths per year.
What can you do to help prevent alcohol abuse? Together we can create a positive learning environment for our youth and inform college students about the risks of alcohol abuse. Educators and school administrators can influence young people to change their attitudes about alcohol abuse and binge drinking. Members of our community can join a community coalition or volunteer with a local organization that’s working to prevent alcohol abuse and underage drinking.
Together, we can create and implement prevention strategies that focus on changing the environmental conditions that foster problematic alcohol use. This includes policies that control access and availability, media messages and enforcement actions.
The mission of the GRAAB Coalition is to bring together concerned members and service providers of the community to facilitate lowering the misuse of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, as well as other addictive behaviors, in Bradley County, by providing effective education, recovery and support for youth, families and the community.
For more information on this topic, GRAAB programming or volunteer opportunities available from the GRAAB Coalition, call us at 423-472-5800 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit our website for regular updates as well at www.graabcoalition.com.
(Editor’s Note: Today’s National Prevention Week “Viewpoint” was written and submitted by Tanya Southerland, executive director of the GRAAB Coalition. Thursday’s installment will feature “Suicide Prevention.”)