When Will We Ever Learn?

Hot off the presses at the Centers for Disease Control this week comes the news that people (like me) who have spent most of their working lives in the behavioral health and addiction field have known for a long, long time – heavy use of alcohol kills people! A lot of people, it turns out.

The just-published CDC report (read more here) pins nearly 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults –that would be people between the ages of 20 and 64 on excessive use of alcohol, which includes ANY use of alcohol by pregnant women or people under 21, and approximately 8 drinks per week for women or 15 for men. Hey, they aren’t being sexist. On the contrary, the generally different build and lower body weight of the average woman means that one “standard drink” has a greater impact on the gender. Binge drinking, 4 – 5 or more drinks consumed on a single occasion, is also considered excessive.

Over 88,000 people PER YEAR have died each year between 2006 and 2010, and things do not seem to be getting any better. By contrast, total U.S. Military Casualties in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and the present have been 5,281 and there are 58,256 names listed on the Vietnam Memorial wall. This is by no means to make light of those who have sacrificed their lives in service to their country, but to put in perspective what a devastating effect alcohol use has on the domestic population of the country.

Obvious links between alcohol and death can be made in the case of acute injuries, like vehicle crashes, suicide, alcohol poisoning, child abuse, falls, and homicides. These make up around 2/3 of the death toll. The rest come from more chronic conditions such as strokes, cirrhosis, pancreatitis, cardiomyopathy, heart disease, and various cancers.

The sad thing about all of this news is that virtually all of these deaths are preventable, but we are doing a very poor job of prevention. It is as if you and 9 of your friends sat down to dinner and someone announced “One of you is going to die each year, every year in the future – unless you take some relatively easy steps to stop that from happening”. Which of your friends would not be interested in doing what he or she could to stop these deaths – and wouldn’t you as well?

Maybe it’s time we all took it upon ourselves to learn more about excessive drinking, and what we can do to stop it from killing so many of us –it’s never too late to implement good ideas, and there is certainly a wealth of information, easily accessible to almost everyone. Start doing something today!