Did you know that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance in the United States? One in 12 adults, or 17.6 million Americans, have an alcohol use disorder or are dependent on alcohol. Millions of others exhibit problem drinking behavior, like binge drinking. Those with a family history of alcoholism have an increased risk of developing an alcohol use disorder.
Not everyone who misuses alcohol will develop an alcohol use disorder, but it can still cause numerous health issues including cardiovascular problems, increased risk of cancers, psychiatric disorders, such as depression, liver diseases, gastrointestinal disorders, stroke, and unintentional injuries.
Fast Facts About Alcohol
- 8 million worldwide deaths caused by alcohol annually.
- Alcohol addiction is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation.
- 88,000 deaths are annually attributed to excessive alcohol use in the U.S
- 40% of all hospital beds in the United States are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption.
- Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death
Source: Facing Addiction with NCADD
Binge drinking, which is drinking large amounts of alcohol in a short amount of time, is especially problematic among younger people. People between the ages of 18 – 34 binge drink the most, but it’s also a disturbing trend among high school kids. According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), 66.6 million, or 1 in 4 people, ages 12 to 17 reported binge drinking and the National Institutes of Health report two-thirds of high school students who drink, do so to the point of intoxication.
A binge is defined as five or more drinks for men in a two-hour period and four or more for women in the same time period. Women metabolize alcohol differently, which is why the number of drinks is less. In fact, alcohol may be even more dangerous for women; the CDC says women who drink seven or more drinks in a week are at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and liver disease. The maximum recommended number of drinks for men is twice that amount.
There are a number of dangers associated with binge drinking including, car accidents, falls, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancy, violence, and alcohol poisoning. Alcohol poisoning can be deadly if left untreated. A person with alcohol poisoning has such high levels of alcohol in their body that it shuts down a their breathing and gag reflex. People die because they stop breathing or they choke on their vomit. If a person exhibits signs of alcohol poisoning, such as slow/irregular breathing, unconsciousness, confusion and vomiting, it’s important to call 9-1-1 or get them to the emergency room immediately.
You’re Probably Drinking More than You Think
Is your drink the size of a “standard drink?” The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) created this chart below that outlines the defined standard drink sizes. If you go out to dinner and order a cocktail or two, how much are you actually drinking? Chances are, one of your drinks is more than a standard drink size, which means you may become intoxicated quicker. If you’re curious, they created a Cocktail Calculator to give you a better understanding of how much alcohol you are consuming.
Source: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
If you think you or someone you know may have an alcohol use disorder, educate yourself about the signs and symptoms of problematic drinking behavior. NIAAA has compiled resources to help you navigate treatment options and find treatment providers near you.
March is all about women; it’s Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day is Friday, March 8, 2019. It’s a time to celebrate women’s achievements, raise awareness of bias and encourage people to take action for gender equality. When you think about gender bias, you probably don’t connect that to substance use disorders. However, gender plays a role when it comes to the effects of drugs and alcohol as well as treatment.
The fact is, women experience addiction differently than men and they also have unique needs when it comes to treatment. Typically, such needs are not addressed by treatment programs, which prevents some women from seeking help.
Facts about Substance Misuse in Women
- It takes less time and smaller amounts of certain drugs before becoming addicted.
- Women have more drug cravings and experience more intense withdrawal.
- Hormones can make women more sensitive to some drugs.
- Women experience different brain changes than men and more physical effects on the heart and blood vessels.
- Women are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression, which increases the risk of substance misuse.
- Trauma increases the risk of substance misuse and women experience higher rates of trauma, including sexual abuse and domestic violence.
Source: National Institute on Drug Abuse
According to Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA’s) National Survey on Drug Use, over 23 million Americans struggle with an addiction, but only 11 percent receive treatment. While there are many barriers to treatment, some are gender specific. Pregnancy, lack of child care, fear of losing custody of children, and other family responsibilities are some of the reasons women don’t get adequate treatment for substance use disorders.
Families in Recovery Program at Liberation Programs
Liberation Programs’ recognized the unique needs of women and developed the Families in Recovery Program (FIRP), an inpatient program for pregnant and parenting women located in Norwalk, CT. The program began in 1994 and is unique in our region. It is the only program of its kind in Fairfield County and the only one in Connecticut where mothers can bring two children up to the age of 10 into the program with them. FIRP helps mothers overcome their substance misuse problems and acquire the skills and resources they need to provide safe, nurturing homes for their children, helping to break what is often a multi-generational cycle of poverty and addiction.
While we recognize there is still a long way to go, we are proud to offer this program to women in our community. We hope other treatment providers across the nation will begin to integrate additional services, such as child care and transportation assistance, to make treatment accessible for anyone who wants help.
September is National Recovery Month, when the country purposefully sets time aside to celebrate stories of recovery from the disease of addiction. It also gives us time to review the proven methods developed over many decades that have helped millions of Americans improve their lives. Liberation Programs will be hosting a number of events ourselves and are proud to be part of this national movement to recognize that recovery can, and does, happen.
But there’s always some trepidation as we approach September. We worry if our message of hope is lost somehow in all the statements that get bandied about so easily, with little exploration of accuracy. I’m sure you’ve heard some yourself. I know I’ve been in public forums where I’ve heard people say things like “only one in ten gain sobriety,” or “it’s not really a disease, it’s a lifestyle choice,” or more shockingly in 2018, “recovery medication is a crutch” (try saying that to a loved one suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or the litany of other chronic lifelong illnesses aided through medication).
The truth is that recovery is not elusive. Not at all. Difficult, sure. Requiring patience, vigilance and support, check. But every minute of every day, it happens. Recovery isn’t some fleeting thing, outside the grasp of those who strive for it. Recovery is all around us. We are surrounded by it. Liberation Programs serves about 1,200 people each day. Come and take a tour with us in any of our facilities. Talk with people enrolled in one of our many programs. Listen to what they say and you will be amazed. The number one response I get after a tour is “I can’t believe how normal the people are. They seem happy.” It’s true – people in recovery are often happy and we celebrate that!
August will mark my 26th year working at Liberation Programs. When I tell people this, so many ask me how I can do it – “It must be so frustrating and sad to see so much suffering,” people will say. I’ve had basically the same response for two decades: “Sadness and frustration are part of my work, no doubt. But where else can you witness miracles of change happen all day, every day? Families reunited. Communities re-established and strengthened. Lives saved. Who wouldn’t want to be part of that?”
Just two weeks ago, we welcomed in the new year. This is the perfect time to hope for the future and to reflect on the year that has passed. In Fiscal Year 2017, we helped more individuals than ever before, making it our best year ever in that sense. We provided medication assisted treatment (MAT), mental health counseling, and other vital services to 2,215 individuals. I am happy to share that, of those receiving MAT, 75 percent eliminated or significantly reduced the use of illicit opioids, improving their life function. None of these individuals were among the estimated 1,076 Connecticut lives lost to drug overdose in 2017.
While 2017 may have been our best year—with so much left to do—it was also one of our most challenging years. Sadly, we closed 2017 with news that life expectancy in the United States had fallen for the second year in a row, in large part, due to the opioid epidemic and alcohol dependence. And the numbers show that opioid overdose deaths affect all people regardless of their race, gender, economic status, or any other characteristic. With more than 2.13 million Americans suffering from opioid dependence but only 20 percent receiving treatment, we have a long way to go.
Communities across the nation have the ability to end this epidemic of overdose deaths. For instance, Liberation Programs is launching the Bridgeport Integrated Health and Wellness Center. By augmenting our existing mental health and addiction treatments with a comprehensive array of services including family therapy, services for children, parent education, and vocational programs, we will provide an encouraging and welcoming environment to allow more individuals and families to get the help they need. We have taken on the construction of this center without state or federal support because the Bridgeport Community needs these services—and because it is the right thing to do. Other communities feel the same way and are following a similar model to help more people get access to care. There may still be a lot to do in 2018, but local communities like ours have the capability to end this crisis.
Liberation Programs could not have made so much progress in 2017 without the hard work of our employees—and I offer my sincerest thanks to these wonderful, dedicated women and men. I am also deeply grateful every day for the steadfast support of our board of directors. They help make everything that Liberation does possible. Last but not least, I owe a special debt of gratitude to our other donors and volunteers, those loyal friends whose sacrifices help make the work we do a reality. Thank you for believing in our mission long before the opioid crisis was a trending topic in the news. I hope that all of those who helped us make 2017 a successful year will join us in taking more steps this year towards ending overdose deaths in lower Fairfield County.
As a next step on our journey together, would you please follow us on social media? Like, comment, and share our posts so we can spread information about how we, as a community, can end this epidemic.
By Alan Mathis
President and CEO of Liberation Programs
National Survey on Drug Use and Health