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The media is flooded with reports of marijuana legalization that warn off potential users by highlighting every new study supporting the dangers associated with its use. Then there’s the epidemic of opiate addiction. Triggered by skyrocketing rates of narcotic prescriptions over the past 10 years and now manifesting as heroin dependence, opiate dependence reports occasionally knock marijuana use off the front page due to the ever-increasing deaths caused by opiate overdose. And then there are the waves of medical emergencies and hospitalizations caused by Molly or other synthetic substances that strike concerts, parties, or certain areas of the country every few months.
These drug use disorders are all important and highly devastating to the families that struggle with them, but none of them – not one – comes anywhere near causing the total amount of death that is caused by the most easily accessible substance in the country: alcohol.
According to The Washington Post, alcohol remains the deadliest used substance in the United States. Though it’s not as flashy as other addictive substances, it continues to kill Americans both slowly and quickly, in a number of different ways, by causing or contributing to:
Chronic illnesses like heart disease and cancer
Acute medical emergencies, especially when combined with other illicit drugs
Accidents under the influence (e.g., drunk driving crashes)
An estimated 36 percent of offenders – about 2 million people – behind bars were under the influence of alcohol at the time they committed the crimes that landed them behind bars, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Comparatively, the rates of use of other illicit substances among those who committed crimes, fell victim to crimes, developed deadly diseases, or died due to an accident under the influence are significantly lower. For example, among victims of homicide in Illinois who died between 2005 and 2009, about 40 percent had alcohol in their systems while only about 10 percent had cocaine in their systems (roughly half of these also had been drinking as well) and opiates were present in only 3 percent of victims.
It’s clear from these statistics that heavy drinking can be dangerous for a number of reasons – even drinking that’s done in the comparatively safe company of friends and loved ones.
Treatment Changes Lives
As awareness increases and access to treatment expands through the Affordable Care Act, more Americans who struggle with alcohol can access the drug and alcohol treatment services that will help them rid their body of existing toxins and then stop drinking altogether. If you are, or your loved one is struggling with an alcohol use disorder, don’t wait to seek help.