Alcoholism is nothing new. It’s sometimes easy to forget that there are many other forms of addiction out there and that they each pose a threat, especially with the country’s current opioid crisis. However, drugs like alcohol are among the most insidious because they’re so ubiquitous – alcohol is legal (over a certain age), it’s available almost everywhere, and in certain situations it’s even encouraged.
A lot of people drink – in fact, in California alone, over half of the population over the age of 12 consumed alcohol in the last month. One in twelve Californians has an alcohol dependence issue, and in a state with nearly 40 million residents, that makes for a significant number of teens and adults struggling with alcohol use in the Golden State. Casual drinking is not a problem in and of itself, but it is a good indicator of a potential problem. While binge drinkers are always fewer in number than those who drink modestly, the more people drink modestly, the more the potential for binge drinking rises.
No single factor is to blame for that. Yet while alcohol is a drug with addictive properties and overdose risks, it is abundantly and positively represented in popular media. Additionally, the fact that it’s a staple relaxant at every party, in every restaurant, and in almost every household across the state, greatly increases the risk of alcohol abuse for millions of Americans.
Another factor is the growth of the popular craft beer industry, which has led to greater casualization of alcohol use throughout the state. Alcohol misuse by underaged teens alone accounted for nearly $7 billion in problems and costs in the year 2013, from youth violence and traffic crashes ($3.5 and $1.02 respectively) to property crime, injury, poisonings, and fetal alcohol syndrome in mothers under the age of 21. As a whole, binge drinking is at a prevalence of about 16.7% in California, and it carries not just a huge financial burden, but leads to countless amounts of pain and suffering through injuries, property losses, and deaths.
Why Alcohol is a Dangerous Drug
Overuse of alcohol is largely known to exacerbate or even partially cause a number of life-threatening and life-altering diseases, including:
- Various forms of cancer
- Infectious disease
- Neuropsychiatric disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Liver and pancreas disease
That is a scary list, and it’s as scary as it is because while drugs like cocaine and amphetamines are far more addictive, alcohol is a long-term killer. Alcohol has a much more pervasive presence in society, and a long list of slow and degenerative effects throughout the body.
More than being responsible for many losses and diseases, the greatest risk surrounding alcohol is its availability. Despite underage drinking being illegal, it is quite widespread and socially acceptable. Research has shown that teens process alcohol very differently from adults, however, and there are important reasons they are not allowed to drink. The risk factor for addiction is much higher with teenage brains than it is with fully-developed ones.
California and Underage Drinking
Getting involved with alcohol at an early age carries more than 6 times the risk of developing an alcohol addiction versus those who first started drinking after they turned 21. On average, the first time underage youths try alcoholic beverages in the US is at age 13 for girls and age 11 for boys.
Behavior that is often linked to underage drinking includes violence, traffic accidents, attempted suicide and risky sexual activity (including unprotected sex and sex with multiple partners). A greater risk of developing physical diseases can also be connected to a head start on drinking and binge drinking.
How Social Drinking Brings Risks to the Table
Alcohol is not just a drug with addictive side effects. It’s a substance that carries much larger risks, including counterindications with several common subscription medications. Alcohol use also increases the risk of several health conditions, as well as being a necessary cause for more than 30 conditions.
Diseases like alcohol use disorder, alcohol withdrawal, alcoholic myopathy, alcoholic gastritis, alcohol hepatitis and more, indicate that as far as drugs go, alcohol is among the more poisonous addictive substances humans are known to consume, even if it isn’t one of the most addictive ones.
While social drinking is not a clear indication of developing alcoholism, most alcoholics start with casual use. No one is born an alcoholic, but some are more susceptible to alcohol-related diseases than others, including dependence. If alcoholism is common in your family, avoid binge drinking.
The Rise of Craft Beer
Over the past six years alone, the number of craft brewers in the state of California has tripled, from roughly 300 to over 900. The craft beer industry accounts for tens of thousands of full-time jobs. It has grown tremendously as a new artisan industry throughout the region, despite California’s reputation as wine country.
While this shouldn’t be tied to the rise of alcoholism, it does increase the urgent need for families to help their loved ones in recovery stay clean. It is also just a good idea to educate younger generations about alcohol at an earlier age. For example, discussions regarding sex held while children are still young have shown to decrease the chances of early sexual intercourse and to help teens better deal with issues surrounding teen pregnancy. Similarly, speaking to kids and adolescents about alcohol use and educating them on drugs in a way that foregoes fearmongering and promotes facts will drastically decrease the chances that they imbibe early on.
Conversation around alcohol needs to begin at an early age, with the understanding that despite its social prevalence, there must be strict rules surrounding the use of alcohol, and for good reasons. Excessive alcohol use can lead to nausea, memory blackouts, alcohol poisoning, traffic accidents, violence, unprotected sexual intercourse (expanding the spread of infectious diseases), and even death.
On a social level, a drink can be a nice thing – especially during celebrations, where a festive toast (for example) can raise the mood of a room. But it’s important to draw clear boundaries and help kids understand the risks of alcohol use and abuse, especially during their formative teen years. Creating a mysterious taboo for children only makes it more alluring. Being honest and frank about the topic, and explaining the potential dangers, is much more helpful.