What is the “Top Lethal Issue” in North America Today?

You may recognize the “top lethal issue” was declared by America’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to be drug overdose deaths. Canada’s statistics on opioid deaths closely parallel those of the United States. Drug and alcohol issues are serious problems, and it’s personal. I lost a son and a brother to causes related to their drug abuse.

However, the number of deaths from drug overdose pales in comparison to the number of deaths caused by alcohol abuse. Opioids can kill you by overdose. Alcohol abuse can kill you in over 50 different ways. Alcohol abuse is an even more serious problem than drug abuse, and it is also personal. I lost a daughter and another son to causes related to their alcohol abuse. I lost my mother to an alleged drinking driver. And I probably would not be alive today, had I not stopped my own extreme drinking back in my thirties.

It seems that just as the opioid crisis is getting worse so is alcohol abuse, especially binge drinking. These are serious drug and alcohol issues.  One study defines binge drinking as five or more drinks on any one occasion for both men and women. Another defines it as four or more drinks for women, five for men.

In a US government survey, the percentage of men of all ages who reported binge drinking during the previous month was almost twice as high as that of women of all ages. However, over a recent 11-year period the number of men who reported binge drinking decreased slightly, while the number of women reporting binge drinking increased 13%. Perhaps more startling is the finding that, among all people between ages 50 and 74, there was a 24% increase in the number reporting binge drinking. For all people aged 65 or over, there was an increase of 23%.

Notice I have not used the term “alcoholic.” The DSM-V now uses the term “alcohol use disorder” to refer to excessive drinking, alcohol abuse or risky drinking. The fact of the matter is of all the men and women who indulge in risky drinking (four or more drinks in a sitting or more than eight drinks per week), only about 9% are actually addicted to alcohol. So it is not just the hard-core alcohol addicts who are at risk of dying from causes related to their alcohol use.

Let’s make it personal. I invite you to reflect on how alcohol is used in your own immediate and extended family and among your friends. Are you and the people you care about making good choices regarding alcohol use? If the answer is yes, good! If no, help is available to learn to make better choices without ever having to use the term “alcoholic.”

If any of this information on these drug and alcohol issues touches you, I further invite you to leave a comment below.

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Dr. Neill Neill retired his psychology practice at the end of 2013. He maintains an active coaching practice via telephone or Skype with select clients dealing with alcoholic husbands or ex-husbands. Check out his book, Living with a Functioning Alcoholic: A Woman's Survival Guide. http://drneillneill.com

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