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Three Reasons Not to Overlook Alcohol Abuse

Parents can look out for the long-term harms of alcohol abuse kids don't see

Mahrael Boutros/Pexels Free Images
Alcohol Misuse Can Have Unintended Consequences
Source: Mahrael Boutros/Pexels Free Images

With so much attention focused on the opioid overdose epidemic, which has claimed more than 700,000 lives in the last 18 years, less attention is being paid to an ongoing concern, alcohol abuse. While overdoses claim many lives and opioid abuse is an ever-worsening problem, alcohol abuse ends 88,000 lives per year. Alcohol misuse also leads to myriad other harms and young people are more likely to use alcohol than other drugs. Here are three reasons not to overlook alcohol abuse, especially if you are a parent.

1. Alcohol misuse decreases inhibitions. With the diminished capacity to make good decisions, people who are drunk can behave in ways that create a lifetime of consequences. People who are intoxicated are more likely to become victims of violence, assault, robbery, and other crimes. Substance abuse, frequently alcohol abuse, is often at play in instances of domestic violence. Drunk driving continues to kill thousands each year.

Individuals may also choose to engage in unsafe sexual activities while drinking that they might refrain from when sober. These choices can result in an unplanned pregnancy, disease transmission, or unexpected emotional consequences.

We simply are more prone to make poor choices while intoxicated.

2. Alcohol abuse leads to a host of diseases. Many of these diseases affect the liver. Fatty liver disease, cirrhosis, and alcoholic hepatitis all impede liver function and can lead to death. Alcohol misuse can cause or exacerbate pancreatitis, cancer, intestinal dysfunction, brain damage, and osteoporosis. Alcohol misuse is also a major contributing factor to injury from accidents.

3. Alcohol abuse is considered acceptable in many ways. It is expected or at least tolerated when people overindulge with alcohol in settings from weddings and birthday parties to work or sporting events. We expect people are going to get drunk at specific times and sometimes act to minimize the impact of excessive drinking. For example, many companies provide free rides home to people who have had too much to drink on New Year’s Eve.

One problem with the normalization of alcohol abuse and binge drinking is that it is easy to make excuses for those who drink too much, allowing the progression of alcohol misuse to develop without intervention.

Why does paying attention to alcohol misuse matter? Social pressures work in both directions, to encourage people to make good decisions or poor ones. Parents especially have far more influence on their children than they believe, and problematic drinking patterns often start at a young age.

Let your kids know how you feel about drinking. If children know they will disappoint their parents by engaging in binge drinking or alcohol misuse, they are more likely to put off drinking until they are older.

If someone you love makes a poor choice, encourage them without judgment to make a different choice in the future. Keeping an open dialogue can help young people who are developing a drinking problem to reach out for help earlier in the progression of the disorder and respond more fully to treatment.

Alcohol misuse is an ongoing and significant problem in the USA. By paying attention to how and why your friends and loved ones, especially young people, use alcohol, you may notice changes or trends that allow them to get help if alcohol abuse becomes a problem.