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Because of the spread of COVID-19, many people across the world are faced with fear and uncertainty. In America, this virus is compounding problems that were already rampant in our public health system. We’ve been dealing with a pervasive opioid epidemic for years, and even with this new crisis, healthcare professionals and treatment providers are making sure that both problems are getting the attention they deserve. However, for years now, another issue has been taking lives in this country, but for some reason, hasn’t received the same level of attention

A new study published by The Journal of the American Medical Association looked at trends in alcohol-induced deaths from 2000-2016, and the findings were disturbing to say the least. The researchers took a cross-sectional approach, taking into account gender, age, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status and geographic location. What they found, by and large, were huge increases in mortality – particularly in the last three years of the study (2013-2016).

There are, of course, variations in alcohol use disorder among certain groups, with American Indian and Alaska Native individuals and white women experiencing the most significant increases overall. In other groups, such as Latino men and black men and women, alcohol mortality rates declined in the early years of the study. In later years, the numbers started to go up again. Perhaps the most upsetting finding is that rates of alcoholism are growing among younger populations.

How could this happen? With cigarettes, marijuana, and prescription and non-prescription opioids, there have been plenty of national, widespread campaigns launched to discourage people from misusing these substances, especially younger people. But for some reason, we haven’t extended the same efforts towards alcohol.

The problem might simply be that binge-drinking is part of our culture. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, of the 55% of college students that drank alcohol in the past month, more than one-third engaged in binge drinking during that time. It’s often considered a rite of passage: going to college and partying with excess drinking every single weekend, if not more often. And it doesn’t stop in college, or after your 21st birthday. On every national holiday, alcohol abuse rates – and subsequent deaths and injuries – spike. People drink on the weekends to wind down and drink during the week to socialize. Drinking alcohol, even to excess, is our most “socially acceptable” vice.

With all the other health issues Americans are facing – especially in the past few weeks – it would be easy for us to ignore this problem. If we do, however, the data shows that American lives will continue to be lost as a direct result of alcohol misuse. Not only that, but the COVID-19 pandemic could exacerbate drug addiction and alcohol use disorders. As people are forced to isolate from co-workers, friends, and loved ones, many turn to alcohol or drugs to pass the time or deal with stress and anxiety.  Not only is this inclination dangerous in its own right, alcohol is proven to weaken your immune system and could actually make you more susceptible to COVID-19. As difficult and lonely as social distancing can be, we have to find ways to stay connected and sober.

Ignorance and misinformation about the effects of drinking have been tolerated for far too long. We need to make an effort to inform the public about the dangers associated with heavy drinking before the numbers escalate and we have another epidemic on our hands.

If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction and mental health issues, The New England Recovery Center is here to help. Call us today at 1-877-MyRehab and speak to a counselor.

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