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Alcohol Abuse: A Social Problem

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 23, 2019

Alcohol abuse reverberates outwards, affecting more individuals than just a person’s inner circle. Alcohol abuse not only impacts individuals and their family’s, but creates a lasting social impact on the community around them.

Alcohol Abuse, Violence, And Crime

Alcohol wreaks havoc on a person’s cognitive functions, decreasing a person’s capability of reasoning, reducing their judgment and self-control, impairing their decision-making skills, decreasing their inhibitions, and increasing their propensity towards risky behaviors. Alcohol may also aggravate an imbalance a person’s emotional and mental states, increasing the likelihood of a person developing aggressive or confrontational behavior. Combined, these factors may create a greater risk of a person becoming involved in violence or crime, either as the individual perpetrating these things, or a person who becomes the victim.

The World Health Organization (WHO) rather succinctly states that “Harmful use of alcohol is a major contributor to violence.” They continue to note, that within the U.S., alcohol consumption has been linked to 35% of those who have perpetrated a violent assault.

Alcohol use is also heavily at play within the world of crime, including such violent crimes as rape, murder, assault and battery, and various forms of abuse. The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD) reports of all violent crimes occurring in the U.S., alcohol has come into play in 40% of them, and that 37% of those incarcerated claim to have been under the influence at which point they were arrested.

The following two sections will focus greater attention on two specific types of violence that may be fueled by alcohol, sexual assault and various forms of abuse.

Sexual Assault May Be Fueled By Alcohol

Due to the reasons, we noted above, alcohol may be a key factor within cases of sexual assault, especially those that are perpetrated against women, and those acts that are committed on college campuses. In addition to the ways that alcohol affects the individual committing the crime, alcohol is often present in the victim, causing great detriment to them, most notably making it harder for them to evaluate risk, and successfully be able to resist the assault, due to motor impairments, as noted by a National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) publication, titled “Alcohol and Sexual Assault.”

The NIAAA publication continues to say that “Conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. Approximately one-half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.”

Alcohol consumption and sexual assault on college campuses are often linked, with the National Institute of Justice detailing that at least half of sexual assaults involve alcohol consumption, whether it be the attacker, the victim, or both.

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Alcohol Is Implicated In Instances Of Abuse

Abuse, whether it be emotional, verbal, physical, or sexual, may often stem from alcohol abuse. Again, this is because alcohol can fuel aggressive behavior. Alcohol is often indicated in events of child abuse, and also, notably, individuals who experience childhood abuse are more apt to develop a substance use disorder later in life. NCAAD references domestic violence, also termed domestic abuse by many, offering that 55% of these cases involve alcohol.

Alcohol Behind The Wheel

Drinking and getting behind the wheel make a deadly combination, a pairing that is unfortunately far too prevalent within our country. Every time a person drinks beyond the legal limit and operates a vehicle, they are not only putting themselves at jeopardy but the health and lives of those around them, including any passengers, pedestrians or fellow motorists that they may encounter.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s N-SATTS Report, cites a startling statistic—each year, nearly 1.3 million people are arrested for either driving under the influence (DUI) or driving while intoxicated (DWI). The CDC further expounds on these shocking numbers, outlining that in 2014, roughly one-third of all traffic fatalities were due to alcohol-impaired driving crashes, a number equating to 9,967 people.

Beyond the immeasurable cost of the loss of human lives, these fatalities take an immense toll on the loved ones left behind. The financial burden that is accrued by this destruction is massive, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimating that a staggering $37 billion dollars are lost due to alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crashes each year.

The Connection Between Alcohol And Homelessness

“The State of Homelessness in America Report,” tells us that on any given night in 2014, 578,424 were homeless, while other reports suggest that the numbers may be as high as 3 million. Homelessness is attributed to many things, however, one predominant risk factor is substance abuse and addiction. A 2009 National Coalition for the Homeless report writes that 38% of homeless individuals are reported to be dependent on alcohol.

A Public Health Concern

When a person consumes alcohol in a pattern of abuse, whether it be in a way that is considered binge drinking, or the more frequent and compulsive manner that is identified with alcohol addiction, the alcohol becomes toxic to their body. The alcohol pollutes it, creating an imbalance in a way that can lead to a myriad of physical and mental health conditions.

The extent of these illnesses and chronic diseases is so great, that it has become a major public health concern. Excessive drinking has been linked to unintentional injury, unplanned pregnancies, various cancers, including an increased risk of breast cancer in women, liver diseases, cardiovascular complications, including stroke, alcohol withdrawal seizures, digestive problems, and various mental health disorders, including depression and anxiety.

Alcohol has also been implicated in increased rates of suicide. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids cites a frightening statistic, reporting that “Almost one-fourth of suicide victims in the United States are legally intoxicated at the time of death.” An excerpt from a June 2009 issue of the CDC’s “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” explains why there might be this correlation, noting “alcohol’s effect on promoting depression and hopelessness, promoting disinhibition of negative behavior and impulsivity, impairing problem-solving, and contributing to disruption in interpersonal relationships.”

The damage does not stop here. The impact of these public health problems extends to other realms, creating even more social issues, including those within families, the workforce, and our country’s socioeconomic reality, as the financial burden of care rises.

Alcohol’s Impact On The Family Dynamic

As a family member consumes alcohol, the impact is often felt in waves as it impacts each member of the family. Whether it be a spouse, parent, child, or a member of the extended family, the stress is often great. Due to a person’s alcohol addiction, they may spend large amounts of money on bills surrounding medical care for alcohol-related conditions or legal fees. They may also spend too much money on the alcohol itself, negating the various responsibilities tied to their family life, including the mortgage, various bills, and providing food and clothing.

As a person descends deeper into alcohol addiction, their other ambitions may falter, including any educational, vocational, or professional pursuits that may further their family’s financial standing and solidarity. In terms of the workplace, a person may miss a promotion, thus reducing their income over the long run, or even lose their job.

Alcohol Within The Workforce

Alcohol can derail a person’s vocational or professional success, in a way that extends beyond them and impacts their families, coworkers, and employers. Due to instances of alcohol abuse, a person is apt to experience increased absenteeism, tardiness, lost productively, greater mistakes, missed deadlines, a poor quality of work, and increased accidents and injury within the workplace. A person’s coworkers may experience greater workloads in an effort to pick up the slack that is resultant from these negative effects.

Instances of alcohol abuse also cause escalated healthcare costs for employers, which may, in turn, translate to increased rates for the employees. Beyond this, the influence on healthcare costs extends to a national level, as even taxpayers begin to feel the results of this. As we’ve noted above, a person’s family may also suffer in direct proportion to the impact that this detriment has on a provider’s finances.

On a greater scale, it is estimated that nationally the cost within the workplace due to alcohol abuse and addiction rests between $33 billion to $68 billion annually, according to the United States Office of Personnel Management.

The Greater Socioeconomic Impact

Every single one of the categories that we’ve spoken about to this point carries some measure of financial and economic devastation, whether it be to the individual, the family, or in many cases, on a national level. This financial burden can cause a great social impact that has the capacity to resonate many years into the future. NIDA solidifies this, enumerating that cost associated with health care, crime, and lost work productivity equates to $224 billion annually within the United States.

In order to offset this vast social impact, we need to proactively seek to provide resources, education, and treatment options to the individuals who are affected by alcohol abuse and addiction. Today, many programs exist that utilize a variety of treatments, including medical detox, various psychotherapies, family therapy and support, and aftercare services.

Let Us Help You Shoulder The Burden

As we’ve illustrated, alcohol abuse and addiction can damage your life and that of those around you in countless ways. Please, reach out to our staff at before your drinking gains any further momentum. If you’re concerned about your drinking patterns or those of someone close to you, contact us today, so that we may assist you in finding more information and alcohol treatment options.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration - Impaired Driving

National Alliance to End Homelessness - The State of Homelessness in America

The World Health Organization - Violence prevention: the evidence: Preventing violence by reducing the availability and harmful use of alcohol

National Institute of Justice - Alcohol Use Increases the Risk of Sexual Assault

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