Alcohol: the legal drug killing our communities?

November 13, 2019

An epidemic is sweeping the nation, overtaking the news and social media, influencing the direction of politics and public health: opioids. This buzzword has become engrained in all of our minds, and while it is proven to be an extremely meaningful issue in our nation’s health, is it causing equally important issues to be put on the back burner?

According to the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), the nation’s largest continually conducted survey system, from 2011-2017, roughly 55% of adults nation-wide reported having at least one drink of alcohol within the past 30 days. In the same report, roughly 17% of adults nationally reported engaging in binge drinking in the last 30 days, with binge drinking being defined as men consuming 5 or more drinks, and women 4 or more drinks in a 2 hour period. The CDC reports that for the United States in 2017, there were roughly 15 overdose deaths involving opioids per 100,000 population, or 0.015%. While this is a staggering rate, increasing by six times the rate of 1999, it can be argued that alcohol-related morbidity and mortality do not receive the attention they require.

Although alcohol can be considered one of the accessible drugs, and the most widely accepted by the majority of cultures, it is linked to detrimental effects on the human body. Alcohol affects the brain, heart, liver, pancreas, immune system, and is a risk factor for multiple forms of cancer. Along with physiological repercussions, alcohol can have a pervasive effect on a person’s behavioral and mental health. There is an inverse correlation between depression and alcohol use, with some using alcohol to cope with their depression, and others developing depression as a result of their drinking and issues that arise as a result. Other alcohol-related mental health disorders include mood disorders, general anxiety, and personality disorders among others.

When a person drinks alcohol, their inhibition is reduced and their dopamine is increased, putting them at a much higher risk for impulsive, and sometimes dangerous behavior. This can lead an unlikely person to engage in risky behaviors such as criminal activity, drug use, physical altercations, unsafe or unwanted sexual activity, and driving while intoxicated. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there were 10,511 deaths from drunk driving crashes in 2018 nationally.

Alcohol’s effect on Long Island

In a recent report from the Long Island Health Collaborative, during the six year period 2011-2017, alcohol consumption among Long Island adults was slightly higher than the state and national averages for the same time period. From the same report, the percentage of Long Island adults who reported binge drinking on at least one occasion in 2017 was roughly the same for the state and national averages, although in previous years, the Long Island region reported higher numbers than the state and nation.

Through the LIHC’s Community Health Assessment Survey for both the full 2018 year and January to June 2019 analyses, drug and alcohol abuse was one of the top two responses for Nassau and Suffolk counties when asked about the biggest health concerns for their communities.

While the declining rate of binge drinking among adults in our region can be attributed to the dedication of prevention and substance abuse treatment programs on Long Island, there is still much work to be done. The rapidly growing craft brewery and vineyard culture on Long Island has skyrocketed accessibility to alcohol, and encouraged casual drinking as a dominate staple in our lives.

Resources on Long Island

Long Island 211

Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Long Island Prevention Resource Center

New Horizon Counseling Center

Horizons Counseling & Education

Alcoholics Anonymous of Suffolk County

Nassau Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous

Long Island Young Peoples Alcoholics Anonymous  

Suffolk County’s Substance Abuse Hotline: (631) 979-1700

This is not a complete list of resources on Long Island.