Alcohol addiction is a public health challenge for any community. Broken homes, social isolation and soaring health-care costs are only part of the toll of alcohol abuse. Communities that aggressively confront the problem tend to fare better overall, but one crucial fact should not be overlooked: Alcohol addiction is first and foremost a health concern, not a sign of personal weakness or an issue of self-control. Only by removing the stigma surrounding alcohol addiction can the alcoholic be induced to seek help, and the resulting problems curbed.
Extent of the Problem
Roughly 40 percent of auto crashes nationwide involve alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Untreated alcohol addiction kills an estimated 100,000 people a year, and the economic toll of alcohol abuse averages $184.6 billion a year in lost earnings and productivity, criminal justice costs and health-care costs, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Effect on the Young
Three-quarters of high school seniors acknowledge having been drunk at least once in their lives, according to Learn-About-Alcoholism.com, while an average of 11,300 teenagers a day try alcohol for the first time. Children of alcoholics appear to be especially susceptible to alcohol addiction. Absenteeism, behavioral problems and a greater likelihood of further drug use are among the major risks of underage drinking.
Though alcohol has long been cherished and promoted for its social effects, the long-term alcohol abuser experiences just the opposite: fewer meaningful interactions with family and friends as the desire to drink gradually takes precedence over everything else. Family members themselves become more isolated, especially if they try to protect the alcoholic from the consequences of his behavior (known as enabling). Family members who voice concerns, on the other hand, encounter deception and lies from the alcoholic. These problems spill over to the workplace.
Nowhere is the toll taken by alcoholism more dramatically evident than in health care. Annual health-care spending to deal with alcoholism averages $22.5 billion, while 25 percent to 45 percent of all hospital patients nationwide are being treated for alcohol complications, according to AlcoholPolicyMD.com. Alcohol-related crashes are the No. 1 killer among teens, whose own abuse costs the nation about $3.7 billion per year, AlcoholPolicyMD.com says. Binge drinking, risky behaviors and increased sexual assault rates are just some of the problems in this group of abusers.
Anecdotally, at least, evidence suggests greater social rewards for communities that tackle the abuse problem, as opposed to ignoring it. Increased drunken-driving enforcement signals that society is drawing a tougher line and that alcohol-fueled misbehavior will not be tolerated. Funding for substance-abuse and employee-assistance programs enables alcoholics to recover and resume contributing to their community positively. Finally, groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Drunk Driving provide a platform to rally against the negative effects of alcohol abuse.