The dramatically rising toll of alcohol abuse

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In the United States, tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death, followed by poor diet and physical inactivity. Want to guess what comes in third place? You can’t be blamed if you suspected opioids like illegal fentanyl, given all the media attention it gets. But no, it is something that is much more accessible, advertised directly to the consumer and has a negative impact on all socio-economic groups: alcohol, and specifically the problem of alcohol abuse, which has been dramatically worsening in recent times.

From 1999 to 2017, the number of alcohol-related deaths in the US doubled to more than 70,000 per year. These figures became much worse at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol-related deaths roseto 178,000 in 2020 and 2021. Comprehensive federal data sets have yet to be released for 2022 and 2023.

In a study published in 2020 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers showed that a significant increase in mortality among all racial and ethnic groups began to occur in the mid-2010s. But the sharpest increase in alcohol-related deaths occurred among younger, white individuals, especially women. The authors noted that the large increases among younger age groups predicted a “substantial future increase in alcohol-related diseases.” In light of more recent figures pointing to a worsening problem, it appears that the researchers’ warning more than four years ago was prescient.

What could worsen the problem of alcohol consumption among young people are the ways in which advertisers portray alcohol consumption. They emphasize its social acceptability – even its supposed link to social success – and this is especially true when advertisements target their messages to a relatively young target group.

The data shows that the marketing is working. Researchers to publish the Journal of Public Health Research found a strong link between the youth appeal of alcohol advertising marketing content on television and the brand-specific consumption of both underage youth and adults.

Critics of certain commercials that are aimed at a younger audience, such as a beer ad that aired in 2019 to promote ‘Coors Light. The official beer of Saturday morning,” suggests that the companies sponsoring the commercial are going too far.

The negative health effects of alcohol usually result from excessive alcohol consumption over extended periods of time. Here, the leading causes of alcohol-attributable deaths are liver and cardiovascular disease, seven types of cancer – including liver, throat, mouth, esophageal and stomach cancer – and alcohol use disorders. NIAAA defines the latter as a “medical condition characterized by an impaired ability to discontinue or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” This can include alcohol abuse, dependence, addiction and the colloquial term alcoholism.

But consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short period of time can also be fatal, as it can lead to alcohol poisoning or other dangers such as car accidents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 17% of American adults binge drink. Additionally, in 2021, alcohol-impaired fatalities accounted for 13,384 (approximately one-third) of all motor vehicle deaths. And 40% of violent crimes, such as assault, murder and domestic violence, were committed by people who had high blood alcohol levels at the time of their arrest.

The increase in alcohol abuse is certainly not limited to the US. In Great Britain, for example The guard reported last month, heavier drinking during the Covid-19 pandemic led to 2,500 more alcohol-related deaths in 2022 than in 2019, an increase of 33%.

Although alcohol can be a toxic, carcinogenic drug, many people also drink it in moderation and often as an accompaniment (a kind of lubricant) in a variety of social situations. Research psychologists have done that found it that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol in groups “stimulates people’s emotions and increases social bonding.”

In addition, there may be physical gains from consuming small amounts of alcohol. The Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and others like WebMD still do tout certain cardiovascular health benefits associated with moderate intake of alcohol.

Nevertheless, other health care institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic, appear to be one different point of view recently. The hospital group now says that “drinking alcohol in any quantity poses a health risk”, although it qualifies the statement by suggesting that “while the risk is low with moderate intake, the risk increases with the amount you drink increases.”

And a STAT news article published this month indicates that “alcohol is not healthy after all.” The publication asks Whether the new dietary guidelines, drawn up by the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Health and Human Services and scheduled for 2025, will be shaped more by the interests of the health care or (alcohol) industries? It suggests that changes to the guidelines are likely if the experts drafting the recommendations take into account the evidence of alcohol-related harms, including “increased risks of certain cancers, chronic diseases and injuries.”

While prevention is important, treatment is just as important. Research published by The Lancet shows that early, preventive strategies in primary care can be effective, and that a variety of interventions are available to treat alcohol dependence.

However, access to quality care for alcohol abuse and alcohol-related diseases is often lacking. Additionally, there can be a stigma attached to seeking help for something as socially acceptable and easily accessible as alcohol.

Public health specialists have therefore argued that it is time for one national dialogue about substance abuse of all drugs, legal and illegal, and that this discussion should include alcohol. In this context, experts suggest that efforts should be focused around research into alcoholism, addiction and abuse, as well as ways to improve access to therapy for alcohol use disorders, possible restrictions on advertising and targeted awareness and education campaigns.

However, alcohol abuse and misuse are not (yet) considered a public health emergency. Without declaring this as such, there remains insufficient funding for a coordinated national policy, meaning the federal government has not prioritized alcohol policy in the same way it has for illicit drugs, or prescription opioids. Perhaps the latest alarming figures on the rising toll of alcohol abuse will help create greater urgency.

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