Even as the nation grapples with an opioid- and drug-overdose crisis, alcohol, one of the oldest intoxicants known to mankind, causes significant harms, including to as many as a fifth of American grownups who have suffered harm due to drinking by others and not themselves.
A newly published study, based on data from a survey of 8,750 men and women, finds that as many as 53 million American adults experience any of a dozen designated harms due to boozing by others, CNN reported. The injurious actions include: harassment; feeling threatened or afraid; having belongings ruined; having property vandalized; being pushed, hit or assaulted; being physically harmed; being in a traffic accident; being a passenger in a vehicle with a drunk driver; having family or marital problems; and having financial trouble.
Women, the researchers found, are forced to deal with family and marital problems and financial challenges due to alcohol abuse by partners and friends.
Both men and women experience heightened risk of harm due to others’ drinking and driving. Indeed, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, separately, reported this about the menace of drunk driving:
- In 2016, 10,497 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes, accounting for 28% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States.
- Of the 1,233 traffic deaths among children ages 0 to 14 years in 2016, 214 (17%) involved an alcohol-impaired driver.
- In 2016, more than 1 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or narcotics. That’s 1% of the 111 million self-reported episodes of alcohol-impaired driving among U.S. adults each year.
The “second-hand harms” of alcohol abuse likely are under estimated and too often go overlooked, the researchers said, with CNN reporting this from an accompanying published editorial on this issue by Dr. Timothy Naimi, a physician and alcohol epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center in Massachusetts:
“The under reporting of harms among some individual respondents, coupled with the fact that previous harm leaves some portion of the population unable or less likely to participate in surveys because of premature death, injury, or psychological distress, suggests that even this robust prevalence is likely an underestimate,” Naimi wrote. “This is an emerging area of investigation in its relative infancy and is one that needs nurturing and growth.”
In my practice, I see not only the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the damage that can be inflicted on them and their loved ones by auto, truck, and motorcycle wrecks, including those involving alcohol, as well as prescription and dangerous drugs. Our vehicles are killing us, and there are many ways we can reduce the carnage, including by not texting while driving, and ensuring we are not sleepy or intoxicated — with alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs, including marijuana.
And while it should be widely understood in this age that it is unacceptable to drink and drive, it also should be equally clear that abusing alcohol should not be incident to threatening, cursing, striking, stalking, or otherwise injuring others and especially an intimate partner. Alcohol and substance abuse are associated with domestic and interpersonal violence, but this terrible problem is more fraught and complicated. The acting out, violently at times, also may be related to deep psychological problems that can be worsened by alcohol and substance abuse.
We have lots of work to do to ensure that those in need get the mental and physical care to deal with alcohol and substance abuse, interpersonal and other violence, and other psychologically rooted disorders. We can get to a better place, in part, by ensuring we don’t kid ourselves about alcohol’s harms, first- and second-hand, and that we take all the steps that we need so young people get all the information possible about booze and its misuse.