(Re-read part one of this rootshed.com series here.)
When a person recognizes there’s a problem with his or her drinking, New Year’s often brings resolutions to quit or cut back. Quitting or cutting back can be as life-changing as pledges to work out more in 2013 or promises to get a new job for the new year. Here are additional considerations about alcohol use disorders, quitting and staying sober.
Alcohol is a mass killer in the United States and is the defining public health issue for the 21st century. Driving under the influence has statistically little to do with those conclusions.
Just under 10,000 motor vehicle deaths, 40 percent of the total, stem from alcohol-related crashes. To put that into context with other preventable deaths:
157,000 lung cancer deaths annually
50,000 people are killed in gun violence
39,520 breast cancer deaths
37,000 fatal overdoses from prescription drugs
30,000 Americans still die of the flu
18,000 people are killed in our hospitals by staph infections
Every alcohol-related car crash death is heartbreaking, but by the numbers, those deaths make up very little of the death toll from alcohol use. Even if you ended drinking and driving, alcohol is still our nation’s number one killer:
89,000 other deaths (not in cars) are directly attributed to alcohol; and,
1,000,000 more fatalities from diseases are indirectly attributed to alcohol (e.g.
alcohol causes a condition leading to death).
It’s easy to be offended by drinking and driving. What’s even more offensive is the underreporting of the health effects of alcohol that prove alcohol is our defining health issue. Tobacco has at times held that mantle, but by
comparison, only 473,000 die annually of smoking-related illness. Beverage alcohol kills more than a million. A 2012 study by the German University Medicine Greifswald found that heavy drinkers are at more risk of death than those who smoke.
The way America has responded to tobacco awareness campaigns holds promise for alcohol awareness campaigns, should one be mounted. In 1967, smoking was “in.” Seventy-six percent of adult men smoked. Today smoking is “out” and health officials at the Food and Drug Administration believe by 2020 smoking will be banned in all states. This is happening within just a generation and a half because smoking’s health effects are no longer underreported or reported only in obscure medical publications. With alcohol as with smoking,
people are entitled to their own opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts. The remaining three parts of this series cover the direct and indirect causes of illness or death attributed to alcohol use.
Adapted from chapter eleven of Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud.
Coming in part 3: The short-term health consequences of drinking
Coming in part 4: Drinking’s effects linger in the body years after quitting
Coming in part 5: Alcohol’s lasting legacy on the brain and heart