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The Heavy Toll Of Alcohol Addiction

Posted Sep 28 2008 5:46pm

Each year in the United States more than 100,000 people die from drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. To put this into perspective, both the Korean war and the Vietnam war lasted a combined total of 13 years and there were 95,083 service personnel killed in action. Add in the current Iraqi war deaths for American service personnel for just over 5 years and you still don’t reach the yearly casualties of alcohol related deaths in the U.S. each and every year.


Alcohol And Family


Alcoholism is responsible for the break up of many families and will commonly destroy familial binds. More than half of all current drinkers have a history of alcoholism within the family. This is drinkers - not alcoholics or problem drinkers. In fact three out of ten adults reported that drinking has been a source of problems in their families. The domestic toll of drinking in families should be of obvious concern.


More than 40% of women whose relationships ended due to separation or divorce were living with or married to a problem drinker. Three quarters of all women who suffered non fatal domestic violence were assaulted claimed their assailant had been impaired by alcohol or some other drug. Obviously women and by default their children are the most common victims of alcohol abuse from a domestic standpoint.


Alcohol and Crime


In a 1997 survey by the department of justice, statistically almost 50% of those incarcerated in state prisons for committing violent crimes were under the influence when doing so; the number is closer to 40% for federal prisons. Taken as a whole, three quarters of all prisoners in this same year were involved in alcohol or drugs leading up to he time they committed their offence. This survey is eleven years old; one can only imagine the numbers now since alcohol is as available now as it ever was.


When you factor in the price tag of housing prisoners who specifically had an alcohol problem the cost is overwhelming. All one needs to do is watch an episode of “COPS’ on television to see the vivid effect of alcohol on the day to day effort of police officers. You can’t help but ask yourself if alcohol was taken out of the equation how much safer we would all be.


Drunken driving has become an epidemic with numbers actually rising at certain times rather than decreasing, even with the onslaught of public service announcements and the anti-social drinking and driving awareness programs in place. The questions linger - are we doing enough? Is there anyway to mitigate the criminal damage caused by alcohol?


Alcohol and Health


If you ever doubted the harmful effects of alcohol on your system take an egg and break it into a container of Alcool or Everclear, both of which have very high percentages of pure alcohol. The egg will turn white as it literally begins to cook in the container. Think of the effect of alcohol on a fetus after 9 months of exposure by a pregnant woman who continued to drink. Little wonder fetal alcohol syndrome remains a problem. Even if exposure is minimal during pregnancy fetal development may still be stunted and behavioral problems apparent.


Cirrhotic liver, high blood pressure, heart problems overall, weight gain, brain damage (psycho toxicity), the list goes on of potential health problems related to alcoholism and even problem drinking. The health care costs are astronomical for even the simplest forms of medical treatments related to drinking.


Current American health care costs and concerns negate the possibility that severe cases of alcoholism will get the required treatment necessary to regain health if that person has no insurance. Unfortunately many of those who abuse alcohol are from this lower income category. There is evidence that close to seventy percent of people showing up at emergency departments have some form of substance abuse related problem.


Alcohol and Physicians


Alcoholics spend four times the amount of time in hospital as non drinkers the primary reason being alcohol related injuries. Nearly 20% of visits to a primary care physician have something to do with substance abuse problems; ironically though most doctors do not recognize an alcohol problem when it presents itself. Yet if asked, most people would consider their physician the first person they would ask for advice and treatment information relating to an alcohol abuse problem.


In the end many doctors were said to be the least helpful in taking action with these problems! Most diagnoses of alcohol abuse and addiction are missed by physicians, and even if a diagnosis is made, many physicians do not know how to develop an organized treatment plan. Incredible but true.


In the end the only hope for the alcoholic is all of us. Regardless of who we are, recognizing a problem exists, doing whatever we can to get the person treatment and supporting and advocating for the patients eventual recovery and return to well being is constructive, beneficial to the alcoholic and something what we can all do. This is a crisis happening right now that requires prompt, positive and practical action from everyone.

To set up an appointment with Michael Pearlman, M.D.,
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