Alcoholism: leading cause of preventable death

alcohol abuse

Alcoholism is a treatable disease

Did you know that alcoholism is now the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.? This is from The Addiction Advisor:

Alcohol abuse is killing Americans at record rates not seen in the last 35 years, according to new research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The research shows that alcohol abuse deaths are now up 37% since 2002, making alcoholism now the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. According to the CDC report, more than 30,700 people in the US died from alcohol-related causes in 2014, including alcohol poisoning and cirrhosis of the liver.

I work in the field and yet I find it as hard to believe as anyone else. After decades of treatment, education and prevention efforts, the problem is getting worse. There just aren’t enough quality providers and not enough advocates who understand alcoholism and treatment of alcoholism. Most people I meet don’t even know how to talk  about alcoholism with the same understanding as say, diabetes or asthma.

The article goes on:

The CDC reports that these numbers do not include deaths caused by drunk driving accidents or homicides/suicides committed while intoxicated. Taking these numbers into perspective, alcohol abuse has now killed more people than the overdoses of prescription painkillers and heroin combined.

We hear in the news concern about heroin addiction, and rightly so, but I haven’t heard the above statistics reported with the same concern about alcohol abuse and alcoholism. The denial surrounding alcoholism is not as bad as it was when I started working in the field in the early 80s, but the denial’s still prevalent. There’s still too little emphasis placed on alcoholism as a major medical problem — doctors and nurses are not trained properly to deal with alcoholism. Even in 2016, alcoholism is still considered a moral weakness by far too many.

It’s mindboggling when you really let it sink in that alcoholism is the number one cause of preventable death in the U.S. This means that alcoholism is treatable. Not only can proper treatment prevent premature deaths, it can increase the quality of life for millions of people and their families who now suffer from alcoholism. Although a lot of alcoholics have received treatment and have recovered through the years since alcoholism was first recognized as a chronic brain disease, we’ve still got a very long way to go.

If you have an alcohol problem…

seeking treatment

Do you have an alcohol problem?

Here is a simple test to determine if you have an alcohol problem, or if someone you know might have a problem.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that doctors diagnose when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. The condition can range from mild to severe and is diagnosed when a patient answers “yes” to two or more of the following questions.

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. A health professional can conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms to see if an alcohol use disorder is present. For an online assessment of your drinking pattern, go to RethinkingDrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

There’s nothing to lose by talking with an addiction professional to see if you have an alcohol problem, but everything can be lost if the problem is ignored. Millions of people need treatment for addiction, but few seek treatment. In the next post I’ll discuss some of the reasons why so few seek treatment.