Vince Mercuri: Alcohol use the quiet epidemic

November 14, 2018

Government interventions, law enforcement interdiction, grassroots outreaches, targeted conferences and new treatment approaches -- all appropriate and needed actions to address the country’s tragic opiate epidemic. The number of deaths continues to climb nationwide, grabbing the headlines and calling for more efforts to curtail this deadly pattern.

While these efforts should be applauded, there is another more costly and destructive nemesis that goes virtually unreported, unnoticed and underestimated.

On Aug. 23, a global study from British journal The Lancet addressed the health effects of alcohol consumption. The study was conducted between 1990 and 2016 in 195 countries with male and female subjects ages 15-49. Researchers found that alcohol use was the leading risk factor for death and disability, accounting for nearly 10 percent of all deaths globally, which equates to about 2.8 million alcohol-related deaths annually.

The Centers for Disease Control recently reported that in the United States, 88,000 deaths each year are directly attributed to alcohol usage.

While these numbers are staggering, what is most frightening is the lack of basic knowledge regarding the physical impact alcohol has on the human body.

Consumption of alcohol has been a part of society almost since time began. America has always used alcohol to celebrate and enhance social gatherings, but such conduct has unintended consequences.

Ninety-five percent of alcohol consumed is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lining of the stomach and small intestine, then quickly travels throughout the body: Every single cell and tissue is negatively affected by alcohol consumption. Even casual social patterns of use have the potential for significant health problems.

A 2013 study found that alcohol accounted for 3.5 percent of all cancers in the United States. Among men, cancers of the upper airway, oral cavity, pharynx or larynx, and esophagus were the most fatal connected to alcohol usage. Among women, breast cancer was the leading alcohol-related cause of cancer death, about 15 percent of breast cancer deaths yearly.

Timothy Naimi, co-author of the study, is a physician and alcohol researcher at Boston University Medical Center. He states, “Alcohol is a known cancer-causing agent in humans, but it has been severely overlooked as a preventable cause of cancer deaths. This reflects a public health blind spot.”

This blind spot needs light shed on the consequences of excessive usage. Studies note that regular large amounts of alcohol consumption can lead to heart disease, cancer and liver failure.

Unlike the opioid epidemic, which has immediate negative and harmful affects, the course of alcohol-related health issues takes many years, even decades, to result in illness and premature death.

The Lancet study addresses past contradictions. Previous health guidelines espoused the health benefits associated with consuming up to two drinks per day; the Lancet study says that any benefits were offset by the risks of developing 23 other alcohol-related diseases, specifically cancers or alcohol-related accidents.

The research and scientific data is clear. Public health campaigns should revise their message to include alcohol abstinence and focus on reducing overall drinking patterns for the health and safety of all.

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