In case you didn’t already know, April is Alcohol Awareness Month. This is known as a National Health Observance by the U.S. government. What does that mean, exactly? Well, it means that April is the month that the government health organizations — and many others, such as media outlets and sobriety influencers — attempts to teach the general public about why drinking can be dangerous. For instance, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, drinking in excess increases people’s “risk of injuries, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer.”
This is obviously one of the reasons that The Temper exists and so, this month (and every month), we wanted to bring you some facts about the dangers of alcohol use.
How many people die from excessive alcohol use?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), excessive alcohol use leads to 88,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. For reference, the opioid crisis is currently causing 70,000 deaths in the U.S. every year, also according to the CDC. And while deaths from opioids are steadily increasing and just as tragic, the CDC reports that alcohol also equates to 2.5 million years of potential life lost per each year… which means that it shortens the lives of those who died by an average of 30 years. One in 10 of those deaths are for adults between 20 and 64 years of age and, shockingly, the economic cost of excessive alcohol consumption is roughly $249 billion.
A study published in The Lancet concluded that no amount of alcohol is safe to drink.
In a nation of over 300 million people, 88,000 lives lost to excessive alcohol use may not actually seem like that much but think about what it truly means. Not only are 88,000 people dying because of alcohol misuse… but how many more lives around them are affected by substance use? And I don’t mean the friends and family of those who tragically lost their lives to this drug (because, yes, it’s a drug) but also those who don’t die by the hands of alcohol and yet are otherwise negatively impacted in their health and their lives.
What other risks are there to excessive alcohol use?
For instance, the CDC reports that the short-term health risks of excessive alcohol use include injuries (such as from car crashes, falling, drowning, or even burning), violence (including homicide, suicide, sexual assault, and intimate partner violence), alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behaviors (such as having unprotected sex), and miscarriage or stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder for women who are pregnant.
But it’s the long-term effects of excessive alcohol use that can be truly scary, affecting an untold number of Americans. Those include many chronic diseases and other serious conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and digestive problems.
- Cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, and colon.
- Learning and memory problems, including dementia and poor school performance.
- Mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
- Social problems, including lost productivity, family problems, and unemployment.
- Alcohol use disorder, previously known as alcohol dependence, or alcoholism.
And what, exactly, is less than excessive alcohol use? Listen to this: One drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men. That said, a study published in The Lancet concluded that no amount of alcohol is safe to drink.
What is the line between moderate and excessive drinking?
The line between “moderate” and “excessive” alcohol use, according to the CDC, is a lot smaller than many people likely realize. For instance, a single serving of rosé is five ounces. It’s not a hilariously large glass of wine or a second serving. It’s certainly not several happy hour drinks or a “night out” with the girls where you consume many cocktails. It means less than eight drinks per week for women and less than 15 drinks per week for men, according to the CDC.
If you’re thinking, “well, I definitely have more than eight drinks a week but that doesn’t mean I’m an alcoholic,” you would be technically right. About 90% of people who drink excessively actually do not qualify as having alcohol use disorder— which is defined by the Mayo Clinic as, “a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.”
Think about that: 90% of people who drink too much aren’t diagnostically considered to have alcohol use disorder, previously known as alcoholism.
“About 90% of people who drink excessively actually do not qualify as having severe alcohol use disorder.”
So if you do something like, say, have a hard time limiting your drinking, continue to drink despite personal or professional consequences, needing more to have the same effect, or want to drink so badly that you can’t think of anything else, then you may have alcohol use disorder.
However, I can remember many years during my drinking days when I wouldn’t have qualified as someone who has “severe alcohol use disorder” but I definitely had a problem. Maybe I didn’t fit all of the criteria but I have clear memories of slowly increasing how much I needed to drink over time in order to feel “buzzed” or even “drunk.” I also remember having a hard time saying no to a drink. And I definitely remember having many, many nights after a stressful day of work where I claimed to “need” a drink. Sure, for me, it eventually led to alcohol use disorder, but I know plenty of people from my old life who would still fit some (if not all) of that criteria but wouldn’t necessarily qualify themselves (or be diagnosed by a doctor) as having severe alcohol use disorder.
Even if, in theory, a person doesn’t drink excessively most of the time, what about the times that they do? What about the times that you have eight drinks over the course of the night and then decide to drive home? What about going to your work’s holiday party and having eight drinks and then going home with your boss? What about drinking an entire bottle of wine almost every night during the week and claiming it’s because you need your “mommy juice”?
None of that is okay and none of that is normal.
What is the worldwide impact of alcohol consumption?
This doesn’t account for the global impact of alcohol consumption, either. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the harmful use of alcohol kills more than 3 million people worldwide annually. That’s 1 in 20 deaths worldwide. Just look around your family and friends and picture one of them dying due to harmful use of alcohol. That’s what that means. Expand your view to your coworkers and the rest of your social network, extended family, and future friends… and the numbers just keep growing.
The harmful use of alcohol kills more than 3 million people worldwide annually.
Worldwide, a study published in the peer-reviewed medical journal The Lancet last August found that alcohol is also the seventh-leading risk factor for premature death and disability, globally, in 2016. For those that are aged 15-49, according to this study, alcohol is a leading cause of death and they can also attribute tuberculosis, road injuries, and self-harm towards alcohol misuse. For those 50 or older, cancer was a large part of the total alcohol-attributable deaths. And guess what The Lancet recommended if you wanted to minimize health outcomes? “Zero standard drinks per week.”
What can we do to raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol use?
So now that you have heard all of the depressing news what, exactly, are we supposed to do about it? That’s where Alcohol Awareness Month comes in — though being aware of these facts shouldn’t be relegated to April only.
The CDC has a few ideas for helping us spread the message of the dangers of alcohol use, including doing things in our community such as encouraging friends and family members to make small changes (such as asking them to keep track of their drinking and set drinking limits), parents sharing with their kids the risks of alcohol use, and doctors and nurses talking to their patients about the benefits of drinking less or quitting.
At the end of the day, whatever you can do to raise awareness about alcohol misuse is doing something good. For me, that comes down to sharing my own story of how I knew I had a drinking problem.
For us at The Temper, it’s continuing to share stories of despair and ultimate hope, statistics like this and the knowledge that anyone can recover, and continuing to spread the message that alcohol is not the only way to do fun things or live your life. So, keep spreading awareness because we believe in the power of us, and the power of us to change everything.