By Michael Rass
The escalating opioid epidemic in the United States has dominated the headlines in recent years, and justifiably so. Drug overdose deaths are still at record levels in the United States: The latest statistics published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed an alarming 21 percent increase in the number of drugs overdose deaths in 2016 compared to 2015.
In March, President Donald Trump outlined his “Initiative to Stop Opioids Abuse” in a major address. The President’s plan is focused on three main objectives: reducing drug demand through education, awareness, and the prevention of over-prescription; cutting off the flow of illicit drugs across our borders and within communities; and saving lives now by expanding opportunities for proven treatments for opioid and other drug addictions.
For many years, April has been the month to increase awareness of the dangers presented by another, even deadlier substance. Founded and sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), Alcohol Awareness Month was established in 1987 to help reduce the stigma frequently associated with alcohol use disorder (AUD) by encouraging communities to reach out to the American public with information about alcohol, alcoholism, and recovery.
In his 2016 report on addiction, former Surgeon General Vivek H. Murthy stated that “alcohol misuse contributes to 88,000 deaths in the United States each year; 1 in 10 deaths among working adults are due to alcohol misuse.” That is more than twice the annual death toll of opioid overdose.
According to NCADD, “alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky binge-drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems.”
Alcohol use disorder is a chronic, progressive disease that often affects genetically predisposed individuals. Like many Americans, President Trump experienced alcoholism within his family. When he declared the opioid crisis a public health emergency in October, he talked about his older brother, Fred Trump, an airline pilot who struggled with alcoholism and died at the age of 43. “He had a very, very, very tough life because of alcohol,” Trump said. “He was a strong guy, but it was a tough, tough thing that he was going through. But I learned because of Fred.”
The theme of this year’s Alcohol Awareness Month is “Changing Attitudes: It’s not a ‘rite of passage.’” April will be filled with local, state, and national events aimed at educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among younger Americans, and the important role that parents can play in giving their kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.
There is reason to be concerned. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry in September suggests that alcohol misuse in the US has increased significantly in recent years. The authors compared data from 2001–2002 and 2012–2013 and documented substantial increases in the prevalence of past-12-month drinking, high-risk drinking, and alcohol use disorder.
According to those data, AUDs shot up by almost 50 percent, from 8.5 percent in 2001–2002 to 12.7 percent only eleven years later. “Alcohol use and specifically high-risk drinking, which often leads to alcohol use disorder, are significant contributors to the burden of disease in the United States and worldwide,” the study’s authors conclude.
Recovery from a severe AUD requires a medically supervised detox and comprehensive addiction treatment to address all the patient’s needs. The Farley Center at Williamsburg Place in Virginia offers superior addiction treatment services to individuals from all walks of life. Farley has general medical and psychiatric capabilities. The multidisciplinary team includes an addiction medicine physician, an addiction psychiatrist, psychologists, licensed clinicians, and nurses to give patients the best possible start into a successful recovery from addiction.