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Psychology Today: The Forgotten Addiction

Posted 12/11/2018

by John F. Kelly Ph.D.

In recent years, Americans have begun, justifiably, to recognize the complex public health problem of opioid misuse and associated overdose deaths as a national crisis. Unfortunately, as is often the case when a tidal wave of worry about a particular health issue engulfs the nation, other similar concerns are often swept out of public consciousness. 

Take alcohol misuse, for instance. Although alcohol arguably presents a greater threat to public health than opioid misuse, it has in many ways been overlooked in the recent national conversation about substance use disorders. 

Alcohol misuse occurs when a person drinks in a manner, situation, amount, or frequency that could cause harm to that individual or those around them. The data and statistics on alcohol misuse, paint a clear picture of the continual threat alcohol poses both in the United States, and internationally.

In the U.S. alone, one in ten deaths among working-age adults are due to alcohol misuse, and more than 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year—making it the third leading preventable cause of death.

Alcohol misuse costs the U.S. nearly $250 billion per year in health care and criminal justice expenditures, lost workplace productivity, and other costs. Meanwhile, in 2016 an estimated 14.6 million American adults had alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder encompasses a range of symptoms, with varying severity, from mild disordered use to addictionDespite its prevalence and impact, only a fraction of individuals with this disorder seek or receive professional help, and fewer still receive behavioral therapies or medications that have been demonstrated effective through rigorous scientific research. In part, this is because patients and their families don’t know the range of treatment options available, and don’t know how to search for treatment providers who offer good quality care. 

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