6 Facts to Know About Alcohol

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While the opioid crisis makes deadly headlines, another substance that can cause health problems and heartache often flies under the radar: Alcohol.

According to the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), “most adults in the United States who drink alcohol drink moderately and without complications. At the same time, alcohol-related problems are among the most significant public health issues in the country.”

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. It’s an important time to draw attention to alcohol’s impact on our health and communities, to evaluate alcohol’s role in our own lives, and to educate about treatment options and recovery. Here are some key facts you may not know about alcohol.

About 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes annually.

That’s about 68,000 men and 27,000 women, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in this country. And its deadly impact is on par with the overdose crisis, which claimed about 100,000 American lives in the most recently measured 12-month period.

Alcohol makes the use of some medications and other substances more dangerous.

Even amid the “opioid epidemic,” most overdose deaths involve more than one substance. When combined with benzodiazepines or opioids (either prescription pills or heroin), alcohol can intensify the drug’s effects and lead to overdose. About 22% of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids also involve alcohol.

Alcohol misuse can lead to health problems.

The most common of which are liver disease, heart disease, stroke, cirrhosis, certain cancers, and hypertension.

Alcohol misuse has a ripple effect, causing issues that go beyond substance consumption alone.

Violence, car crashes, accidents that bring people to the emergency room—the World Health Organization has found that alcohol use contributes to lots of other problems that go beyond a person’s individual body and use.

American drinking is on the rise.

The stress of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to more drinking, especially binge drinking (which means having 4–5 or more drinks on a single occasion).

national survey found that Americans’ excessive drinking increased during the pandemic by as much as 21%. According to research published in Hepatology and reported on by the Harvard Gazette, just a one-year increase in this kind of drinking will result in “8,000 additional deaths from alcohol-related liver disease, 18,700 cases of liver failure, and 1,000 cases of liver cancer by 2040.”

Alcohol use disorder is treatable, and there are many options.

This can all sound a bit scary. But it’s only scary because we rarely talk about it. By being honest about alcohol’s impact on our society and our own lives, we can chart a course toward healthier consumption patterns, or toward treatment and recovery when appropriate.

All addictions, including alcohol use disorder, are highly treatable. But everyone has unique treatment needs. What works great for one person might not be effective for another. There are many options to explore, and you’re not alone. If you’re concerned about your own or a loved one’s drinking, learn more about addiction treatment and then start a conversation with your primary care doctor.

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