The Costs Of Alcoholism
This month is alcohol awareness month, and is a good time to look at the impact and the cost that alcohol abuse and addiction has on our society.
Alcohol is a mind-altering substance, just like many illicit drugs in use today. Alcohol is responsible for roughly 88,0000 deaths each and every year, as well as millions of dollars in health costs, lost productivity and legal costs. Alcohol is a leading cause of accidental death in teens, and drunk drivers kill thousands of people every year. 40% of emergency room visits are related to alcohol. $185 Billion is the direct cost of alcoholism to the US each year. Only $26 Billion is spent on treatment while almost half that or $88 Billion is a result of lost productivity.
Unlike most illicit drugs, however, alcohol is socially acceptable. It is often seen as harmless, and is firmly rooted in many societies culture and daily life. Alcohol is part of many people’s everyday activities, as well as a way to mark special occasions and rites of passage.
The prevalence of alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction is alarming, however, and the long-term risks of even moderate alcohol use seem to outweigh the benefits.
Alcohol is a legal substance. In small amounts, and when used responsibly, it doesn’t appear to pose any serious problems. However, alcohol misuse is prevalent, and the effects of alcoholism are devastating.
How Alcoholism Impacts The Family
While the impact of alcoholism on the individual is severe, the impact on family members, particularly children, is just as severe. More than 10% of U.S. children live with an active alcoholic parent.
Children of active alcoholics are more likely to display behavioral problems, do poorly in school, suffer from depression, anxiety and learning difficulties. They are also more likely to abuse substances themselves. In adulthood, children of active alcoholics are more likely to marry alcoholics and addicts, are more likely to enter abusive relationships and are more likely to struggle with trust, intimacy and anger.
Babies who are exposed to alcohol in the womb run a high risk of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder. The risks include: Premature birth, low birth weight, physical deformities, severe cognitive impairment, behavioral disorders and other health problems.
Spouses of active alcoholics often experience a profound sense of isolation. They may devote a majority of their time caring for their alcoholic spouse, and frequently cover for them, make excuses for them and tolerate unhealthy behaviors such as infidelity and verbal abuse. Depression, anxiety and poor physical health are common.
How Alcoholism Impacts Employers
Alcoholism is estimated to cost employers $185 billion dollars per year in employee absence, injury and loss of productivity. Co-workers are also affected, and at least 60% of employees report witnessing a co-worker coming to work under the influence of alcohol. 15% of employees admit to having come to work under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past year. Intoxication is a common cause of workplace injuries and deaths.
How Alcoholism Impacts Society
It’s estimated that alcohol is involved in up to 40% of all violent crimes. Alcohol abuse and addiction cost the United States over 240 billion dollars annually and 31% of vehicle-related deaths each year are due to drunk driving.
It’s easy to see how alcohol negatively impacts individuals, families, employers and society at large. And, a person doesn’t necessarily have to be an alcoholic to experience the negative consequences of alcohol. It only takes one time driving drunk to cause a fatal accident.
The combination of health costs and loss of productivity are expensive, costing hundreds of billions of dollars that could be used to fund education, create new jobs or to improve social programs.
Alcohol impacts people in both the short and long term. Many of the health problems faced by people who drink heavily don’t show up until later in life. Children who are raised in an alcoholic family are often prevented from reaching their full potential in life due to their parent’s alcoholism, and are likely to grow up to be alcoholics themselves, thus perpetuating the costly cycle.
What Can Be Done For Alcoholism?
Alcoholism is a devastating illness, but it is treatable. However, the recovery statistics on alcoholism are discouraging. Why is alcoholism so difficult to treat? And what are the current options for someone who needs help?
One issue that comes up in the treatment of alcohol abuse disorder is denial, another is willingness. Denial is a defense mechanism and a common trait in people addicted to substances. This denial creates a barrier to getting help to begin with. Even those who go to treatment may relapse soon after if they weren’t able to come to terms with their addiction. Willingness to do the work necessary to remain sober is another issue. Long-term recovery from alcoholism does take some work. Finally, abstinence is often necessary to avoid falling back into addiction. People who are addicted to alcohol may make the mistake of thinking they can drink moderately, only to find themselves in the midst of full-blown alcoholism in a short period of time.
Inpatient Alcohol Rehab
An inpatient program is a common method of alcohol treatment. Usually it begins with an alcohol detox as it is important that the individual recieve medical attention during the detox process as stopping cold turkey can result in death. It allows the individual to recover in a protected environment while getting treatment for their illness. Inpatient rehab consists of individual and group counseling, behavioral therapy and other evidence-based treatments.
Twelve Step Support Groups
Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have been helping those with substance abuse disorders for decades. People who participate in twelve step programs are often able to achieve long-term abstinence.
These programs are considered support groups, not treatment. They are non-professional and free of charge. These programs generally consist of regular, peer-run meetings, sponsorship, sober activities and service. Supporters of these programs maintain that those who follow the suggestions of the program can achieve lifetime recovery. Countless people from all over the world have participated in programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and turned their lives around. These programs don’t cost anything and are open to all individuals.
Many paid alcohol treatment centers integrate an abstinence based 12 step programs as well, sending clients to meetings, holding in-house meetings, encouraging sponsorship and assigning step work.
Medically Assisted Alcohol Treatment
Another option for the treatment of alcoholism is medication. This type of treatment isn’t to be confused with medication to treat the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Treatment of alcohol addiction deals with combating the problems of cravings and encouraging abstinence.
Alcohol addiction is powerful. Treating it isn’t easy. Medication provides another avenue for addressing this problem. Medications for alcohol addiction include Naltrexone. Naltrexone is a synthetic medication that is also used in the treatment of opiate addiction. Use of this medication results in reduced cravings, and also reduces the effects of alcohol when consumed.
Antabuse is another drug used in treatment of alcohol abuse disorder, and causes the individual to become ill when alcohol is consumed. This creates an aversion to drinking alcohol, as the results are unpleasant.
While medication alone isn’t necessarily the answer to treating alcoholism, when used in conjunction with other forms of treatment, such as rehab, it can help increase the chances of a successful recovery.