More than two million Americans are addicted to opioids, ranging from the illegal drugs heroin and fentanyl to the prescription medications OxyContin and Vicodin, yet eight times as many people misuse or are addicted to a substance that is more widely available and easier to access. This substance is alcohol. Despite the fact that it has largely retreated from public consciousness in the context of the current opioid epidemic, research shows that rates of alcohol misuse and addiction are on the rise.
The Rates Continue To Climb
Recent reports indicate that nearly 16 million people ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder (AUD), better known as alcohol addiction. This represents an almost 50 percent increase from figures reported just 10 years prior.
Additionally, the number of people who engage in high-risk drinking (more than five drinks at a given time for men, four for women) increased by nearly 30 percent over this same 10 year period.
The Damaging Effects
Alcohol addiction and high-risk drinking have an immense impact on society, from both a financial and personal perspective. Alcohol-related problems, such as health care costs, lost productivity and car crashes, cost society an estimated $250 billion each year. Moreover, approximately 88,000 people die each year from alcohol-related causes. That is 55,000 more people than died from an opioid overdose in 2015.
The Sobering Truth
While the opioid epidemic should not be ignored, it is important to remain aware of the tremendous toll alcohol misuse and addiction have on our society. Addiction in any form is a big problem in America, requiring a big solution. Furthermore, people with addiction are likely to misuse multiple addictive substances, such as alcohol and opioids, often resulting in even more destructive consequences such as a heightened risk for depression or overdose.
Ultimately, there are too many families affected by addiction, regardless of the drug involved, and each deserves support, attention and the allocation of sufficient resources to ensure that every person with addiction gets the help he or she needs.
Source: Hannah Freedman, communications and digital associate at The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse