For centuries, alcohol has been widely used in many cultures, including in the United States. Alcohol is a psychoactive substance, and because it has properties that produce dependence, it can be dangerous on a number of fronts. Alcohol-use disorder can cause a huge social, economic and disease burden in societies.
Why Alcohol Is the Most Dangerous Drug
Many types of drugs are very dangerous. Crack, heroin and crystal meth can all harm you in various ways that can pose health risks. However almost 87 percent of U.S. citizens will drink alcohol at some point in their lives, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Especially with its widespread consumption, alcohol can pose just as great of a risk as other drugs, but the dangers and destructive effects of alcohol are often placed second after drugs.
Ads and media surround you with a message that alcohol is sexy, harmless, fun and desirable. You are bombarded with these types of messages on a daily basis. Since the media and advertisements depend on alcohol advertising for a big portion of their profits, this message is constantly in our head. Because of this connection between alcohol and how wonderful it is, alcohol-related problems are in some cases dismissed.
This “good times” association frequently overshadow the relationship of alcohol to suicide, violent crime, child abuse and unemployment. You rarely see these types of connections in advertisements. In fact, you probably wouldn’t even expect them to be there since the advertisers are trying to sell their products and only want you to relate to alcohol positively. The problem, however, is that drinking alcohol can come with devastating consequences, which is why alcohol is the deadliest drug.
Alcoholism and the Diseases That Can Result From Long-Term, Excessive Abuse
Drinking alcohol, especially excessively, can create a risk for developing a variety of physical health problems, in addition to behavioral and mental disorders, including:
- Alcohol dependence
- Injuries that are obtained from road collisions
- Vehicular crashes
- Liver cirrhosis
- Cardiovascular diseases
- Certain types of cancer
In the U.S., the third leading cause of preventable death is excessive alcohol consumption. Over 80,000 people (over 60,000 men and 20,000 women) die each year due to alcohol-related causes.
Some diseases and conditions that alcoholism can cause include:
- Anemia. When you drink heavily, it can lower the red blood cells that carry oxygen. When your red blood cells are abnormally low, you have a condition referred to as anemia, and it can present many symptoms including shortness of breath, fatigue, and lightheadedness.
- Behavioral problems. Alcohol works like a depressant on your brain, and it can minimize your nervous system activity. Alcohol can diminish your judgment and reduce your attention span. It can lead to loss of balance, slower reaction times, difficulty in remembering, exaggerated motions, blurred vision, dizziness, confusion, severe intoxication and slurred speech. Alcohol can also produce alterations in your mood, such as increased affection, withdrawal and aggression. It can diminish your sense of pain as well.
- Birth defects. If you drink while you’re pregnant, you can cause serious problems for your baby, including brain damage, pre-term labor, fetal alcohol syndrome and behavioral problems. Pregnant women or women looking to become pregnant are advised not to drink at all since researchers haven’t decisively determined how much alcohol is safe for a fetus.
- Cardiovascular disease. When you drink heavily, particularly if you binge drink, it can cause your platelets to form into blood clots, resulting in a potential to develop a stroke or heart attack. Binge drinking has been found to double the risk of a fatality in a person who had previously survived a heart attack.
- Cancer. According to the University of Toronto’s chairman of addiction policy and Centre for Addiction and Mental Health scientist, Jurgen Rehm, PhD, drinking habitually can increase your risk of cancer. The body takes alcohol and converts it into a potent carcinogen known as acetaldehyde, which is what scientists believe contributes to this increased risk.Types of cancer linked to alcohol use include pharynx (throat), mouth, esophagus, larynx (voice box), breast, liver and colorectal region. If you are a heavy drinker and use tobacco as well, your risk is even higher.
- Cirrhosis of the Liver. Many alcoholics develop cirrhosis since alcohol is toxic to your liver cells. This condition occurs when your liver is unable to function because it is heavily scarred. Predicting which heavy drinkers will develop cirrhosis is hard to determine since some people can drink heavily and never get cirrhosis of the liver, while others hardly drink at all and end up with it. Women are particularly vulnerable, although there is no known reason for it.
- Dementia and decreased brain function. Your brain begins to shrink at a rate of nearly two percent per decade on average as you age. This is actually thought to be normal. However, when you drink heavily, certain key brain regions begin to shrink faster, leading to possible memory loss and other dementia symptoms.Additionally, heavy drinking not only can lead to nonspecific dementia that arises from brain atrophy, but it can also lead to severe nutritional deficiencies that can bring on other types of dementiaAlcohol abuse can also greatly affect your higher-order thinking abilities, which include tasks like making judgments, being able to plan, solving problems and performing other executive function tasks. These may be more subtle than other alcohol effects, but they can be equally devastating.
- Depression. Excessive drinking and depression go hand-in-hand for some people. However, many don’t know which comes first — the depression or the drinking. Some people believe that when you are depressed, you turn to drinking to self-medicate. Others believe it is the heavy drinking that leads to the depression. Either way, it’s a vicious and destructive cycle.
- High blood pressure. Your nervous system is what controls the dilation and constriction of your blood vessels when responding to exertion, stress, temperature and more. Unfortunately, alcohol can disrupt the normal operation of this important system. Binge drinking, and other forms of heavy drinking, can increase your blood pressure, and it can become chronic over time. Other serious health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease and stroke, can also result from high blood pressure.
- Nerve damage. When you drink heavily and excessively, you increase your risk of developing a type of nerve damage known as alcoholic neuropathy. This nerve damage can produce a numbness in your extremities, a feeling of painful pins-and-needles, incontinence, muscle weakness, erectile dysfunction, constipation and other issues.It is the nutritional deficiencies stemming from excessive alcohol consumption that compromises nerve function and that can be toxic to your nerve cells, which can eventually lead to alcoholic neuropathy.
- Pancreatitis. Drinking doesn’t just cause gastritis (a stomach irritation). It can also inflame your pancreas. When you develop chronic pancreatitis, it can interfere with your digestive process and can cause persistent diarrhea and abdominal pain as a result.
Criminal Acts That Result From Alcohol Abuse
Another reason why alcohol is the most dangerous drug is because it is the intoxicating substance that frequently leads to lethal violence. It has been associated with more homicides than any other substance.
Alcohol use is particularly common among criminals of specific crimes, like intimate partner violence, sexual assault and murder. According to research of incarcerated people who had committed violent crimes, more than 37 percent of these people had been drinking when the offenses took place.
Alcohol-Related Traffic Accidents and Death
Driving drunk is another factor in explaining why alcohol is the deadliest drug. Around one third of all fatal road accidents in America are related to alcohol use, according to the CDC. What this means is that on average, one U.S. citizen is killed every 50 minutes from drunk driving. All this bloodshed leads to an estimated total cost of around $60 billion a year.
To get an idea of how incredibly dangerous drunk driving is, you can check out the statistics below:
- In 2013, over 30 percent of all traffic fatalities were alcohol related.
- In 2013, there were more than 240,000 crash injuries due to alcohol and over 10,000 fatalities.
- Every day, approximately 30 Americans die in alcohol-related accidents.
- Of all the DWI (driving while intoxicated) convictions, over 90 percent of men and 85 percent of women admitted they abused alcohol.
- Each weekend night, one out of 10 drivers are intoxicated.
The bottom line is alcohol is a huge contributor to traffic-related accidents in the United States and plays a big role in fatalities. The good news, though, is there are certain measures that can be taken to effectively prevent alcohol-impaired driving injuries and deaths. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend school-based instructional sessions, sobriety checkpoints and ignition interlocks, to name a few.
Destruction of Family Relationships and Friendships
Alcohol addiction is a family disease. Studies have shown that children are two to 13 times more likely to have home problems when they have a parent who drinks. These home problems can be anything from seeing their mother be abused to living in poverty. Any of these problems are likely increased with alcohol.
Also, when both parents abused alcohol, the children were 13 times more inclined to witness their mother being battered, according to a report published in Child Abuse & Neglect.
Alcoholism has been linked to profound suffering in family lifestyles in other studies as well. For instance, it was estimated that about 25 percent of women in the U.S. suffered from sexual assault and rape — and half of these cases involved the victim, criminal or both consuming alcohol.
Domestic violence victims are at a great risk of developing alcohol, drug or tobacco addiction, too.
Alcohol’s Impact on Employers
In the workplace, approximately seven million workers struggle with alcohol abuse. This leads to loss of productivity, profits and competitiveness of American businesses — not to mention a drain on the economy.
Although a portion of productivity loss is due to workers drinking on the job, many of these losses are caused from the drinking being done outside of the office, including lunchtime drinking and drinking heavily after work.
According to data collected between the years of 2008 and 2012 for more than 100,000 adults working full time, 9.5 percent of them had an alcohol use disorder in the previous year.
Alcoholism can impact the workplace in four major areas:
- Fatal accidents/premature death
- Loss of production
- Accident/injury rates
- Extra sick leave/absenteeism
Other problem areas may include:
- Poor decision making
- Sleeping on the job
- Substance abuse after-effects (withdrawal, hangover) that affect job performance
- Higher turnover
- Loss of efficiency
- Selling illicit drugs and performing other illegal activities in the workplace
- Increased chances of not getting along with supervisors and co-workers
- Using substances in the workplace that interfere with concentration and attention
- Having to train new employees
- Disciplinary procedures
Not only do you (the drinker) experience a significant loss of productivity, but other people do as well. Other co-workers might have to pick up the slack, work longer hours and become more susceptible to injury.
When alcohol-related issues are prevalent in the workplace, it creates issues relating to reduced workplace safety, poor interpersonal relations and a stressful workplace climate. These things can lead to greater absenteeism, lower morale and less employee productivity — and not just from the people who drink.
Because of these problems, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration mandated safe working environments in 1970, and it offers employers guidance on how to keep the workplace substance abuse free.
It’s important that employers have an understanding about addiction, how common it can be in the workplace and the costs associated with it. Substance abuse can be treated, and when employers work to decrease employee substance abuse, it can help to reduce workplace injuries, improve productivity and reduce healthcare costs.
Employers should have a vested interest in their employees’ wellness because improving employee health from alcohol misuse will help to improve workplace productivity and increase worker satisfaction.
Alcohol’s Impact on the Economy/Cost to Healthcare
Each year, almost 88,000 people lose their lives in the United States due to excessive alcohol use, as reported in a study conducted by the CDC. The CDC also suggested in this study that the excessive alcohol use drains the U.S. economy — usually in terms of productivity loss in the workplace.
For example, the U.S. had to fork out over $220 billion in 2006 alone due to alcohol misuse problems — and binge drinking makes up around three-quarters of this amount.
In 2010, this number climbed to around a quarter trillion dollars in the United States. The costs of excessive drinking can be reduced by implementing efficient community-based interventions.
How to Reduce the Harm Alcohol Misuse Causes
Alcohol misuse is not necessarily the beer companies’ responsibility to fix. Their job is to make the product, market it in a manner that abides by business law, and make a profit — just like other American businesses. It is not the fault of alcohol companies or even the individual who is addicted to alcohol.
The point here is we need to build awareness around alcohol. The commercials do not advertise alcohol in its true manner. They don’t advertise the blackouts, violence, vomiting, homicide or rape — even though these unfortunately do exist because of alcohol.
When people can get an understanding behind the truth about alcohol, it will be respected more. Then, maybe people would understand that enjoying one or two beers is much better than enjoying the whole case. It is through education that this understanding can happen. Countries are responsible for devising public policies for reducing alcohol misuse and implementing and monitoring them. Certain strategies have been scientifically shown to be effective — and they are cost effective as well. Some strategies include:
- Ensuring alcoholic beverage marketing is regulated (especially to the younger crowd).
- Restricting and regulating alcohol availability.
- Placing and enacting effective policies around drinking while driving.
- Reducing demand through pricing and taxation mechanisms.
- Ensuring people are aware of public health issues caused by alcohol misuse and ensuring effective alcohol policies are supported.
- Providing affordable and accessible treatment for alcoholics.
- Implementing brief interventions and screening programs for harmful drinking.
The safety, socioeconomic and health issues caused by alcohol can be minimized effectively by following the actions above in regards to the patterns and levels of alcohol consumption and the widespread social health determinants.
Get Treatment for Alcohol Addiction
It is possible for you to recover from alcohol addiction. With targeted, personalized therapy and intervention, you can live a quality, sober life again. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, your first step is to contact 12 Keys Rehab.
Our 12 Keys specialists and counselors are expertly trained to provide you with competent and empathetic care —they have gone through the recovery process for alcohol and substance abuse themselves. They understand the struggles of alcohol addiction and live their lives everyday as role models of what true, ongoing and successful recovery can be.
We know the key for your long-lasting recovery is through a personalized treatment plan, rather than a cookie cutter rehab program. We focus on all aspects of your body and mind, and that goes well beyond your alcohol addiction. We work with you through a custom-tailored treatment plan that is your roadmap to recovery.
While your roadmap is unique to you, you’ll still go through the standard four main steps of recovery:
- Resources and tools
Your unique treatment plan will evolve as your needs change during your treatment process. However, these four main steps are vital to achieving and maintaining a life free from alcohol addiction.
With our compassionate staff, exceptional amenities and personalized approach, the 12 Keys program enables you to gain access to the resources and tools you will need to really live your life to its fullest potential. We are here around the clock to help on your journey to recovery.