Alcohol: That Other Substance Abuse Problem

By Chuck Norris

July 27, 2018 6 min read

A couple of weeks ago I reported that a large number of drug overdoses today are being attributed to new drugs, especially fentanyl-related substances. Many experts believe that the problem of opioid-related deaths, already underreported, could get even worse as new synthetic fentanyl-linked drugs come on to the market.

A new report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now confirmed such fears. Researchers found that the number of overdose deaths involving the fentanyl, as well as variations of the drug, nearly doubled between the last half of 2016 and the first half of 2017. Illicit forms of the drug, and chemically similar variations known as analogs, have flooded the black market. Many are extremely potent. For example, one such analog is the drug carfentanil, 10,000 times as potent as morphine, it is commonly used to tranquilize elephants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that deaths associated with carfentanil recently jumped 94 percent during the 12-month period.

What is often lost by such shocking and disturbing news — now administered almost daily — is its connection to a broader issue regarding the other big substance-related problems in this country. Alcohol use disorder, more commonly known as alcoholism, is on the rise.

More than 80,000 people die from alcohol-related deaths each year in the United States. Alcohol poisoning kills an estimated six people every day. While more than 15 million people struggle with alcohol use disorder, less than eight percent of sufferers receive treatment. Now, also on the rise are "high risk" binge drinkers increasing almost on a parallel track with traditional alcohol abuse.

A new study published in the international peer reviewed medical journal BMJ reveals a new alcohol-related threat has emerged as a result of binge drinking. Deaths from cirrhosis (a term used to describe irreversible scarring of the liver) and cancer of the liver are rising dramatically in the United States, especially among people ages 25 to 34. Cirrhosis, a disease caused by excessive drinking is traditionally associated with an older generation of drinkers; a result of a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Life-threatening complications can arise from cirrhosis. The study found that, from 1999 to 2016, annual cirrhosis deaths increased by 65 percent in this country.

According to an American Journal of Preventive Medicine report, Americans consume more than 17 billion drinks per year during binges. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 37 million people (one in every six adults) in the country binge-drink at some point. On average, those who had bingeing episodes averaged about one a week and consumed about seven drinks in each occasion. Nearly half of all alcohol-related deaths come from binge drinking.

Dr. David Bernstein, chief of hepatology at the Center for Liver Diseases at Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York told CBS News that "...the [BMJ report] should be a wake-up call to the medical community." He stressed the need for greater focus on disease prevention and risk-factor modification.

"These are deaths of despair," said Dr. Elliot Tapper, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan and first author of the BMJ report. "It's similar to overdose deaths from the opioid epidemic. In both cases, people are trying to relieve the emotional pain they feel."

According to a study published in Journal of the American Medical Association, the group that has seen the highest increase in alcohol abuse disorders may surprise you. It is senior citizens. Individuals 65 and older saw a staggering 106.7 percent increase in alcohol use disorders from 2002/2003 to 2012/2013. Given that older individuals are likely to carry multiple preexisting medical conditions, their disorders could be greatly worsened by heavier drinking. Mixing alcohol and medications can further put them at risk.

While there appears to be no one reason behind older adults' growing alcoholism, stress can be a major factor. They are likely dealing with significant life changes, such as retirement from a long-held job. They may be divided geographically for family, or have lost a spouse. They may be overcome with thoughts of mortality and the prospect of loneliness.

Among these senior citizens, rural older adults are said to be reaching crisis levels. In addition to issues of change, older adults in rural areas have less access to public health services. They may lack access to transportation. They have numerous unique and underlying problems that may trigger alcohol abuse.

If prevention is the goal, then understanding why people drink (or take drugs) in the first place and addressing the core issue is of the utmost importance. At the same time we have to start giving mental health the priority it deserves as a critical part of overall wellness. We need to do a better job of early identification and intervention for those at risk, in providing needed integrated services and care and treatment for those who need it. Most importantly, we need to de-stigmatize these conditions.

We have to start by ending this idea that a mental health condition is some dark stain of shame. One American out of five has some form of what can be called a mental condition. That translates to more than 40 million Americans. We have to start by treating the cause and not just the symptoms, and doing so without shaming.

Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

Photo credit: at Pixabay

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