Alcohol: The Not-So-Innocent Substance

We’re still waiting on the toxicology tests for the cause of Whitney Houston’s death.

Many speculate that the cause will be a combination of prescription drugs and alcohol. Frank Bruni, in his February op-ed piece on Whitney, brought up an interesting point about the lack of emphasis on alcohol in Houston’s death. He points out that we like alcohol too much to notice the damage, and we often lack the effort to decrease that damage.

He couldn’t be closer to the truth. Look at other stories about addicts who have either recovered or overdosed, and you will find that other drugs take the spotlight while alcohol lurks in the shadows. Consider Amy Winehouse’s well-known struggle with cocaine, heroin, and eating disorders; yet she died of alcohol poisoning. Chris Herren, former NBA player, struggled with all sorts of drugs as well, namely heroin, and after about 45 days of treatment, he started his relapse with alcohol.

And we find the same in Houston’s case. After all, drinking is far different from snorting cocaine, or the doctor prescribing too many pills. Illegal drugs carry the brunt of the social stigma, and pharmacies or doctors usually get blamed for the deaths related to prescription drugs.

So what makes alcohol so innocent? It’s social acceptance? The funny Super Bowl commercials?

The people who can drink it in moderation?

What about those who can’t drink it in moderation? Does society warn us of the consequences?

Perhaps even campaigns not to drink and drive encourage us to ignore the dangers of alcohol by implying that “it’s okay if you drink too much, just don’t drive.” How about “don’t drink so much you cannot drive”? Granted, the campaign is important in trying to save lives, but how much more could society help save lives if it didn’t play down the effects of alcohol?

Bruni reminds us of some sobering/staggering statistics from The Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • Excessive drinking is responsible for about 79,000 deaths every year
  • Economic cost of excessive alcohol use is over $223 billion per year, most of which is due to lost productivity.

Researchers find out more about the harmful effects of excessive drinking every day. But as of today, we know alcohol damages brain development in teens, and drinking at a young age increases the chances of becoming an alcoholic. Yet, alcohol is the number one drug of choice for teens. Why? Just because it is easier to get? Perhaps parents think that binge drinking is a lesser evil than pot or crack, so it’s easier to let that substance abuse slide. Health classes are sure to give vivid images of the harm of tobacco use, but where is the poster about alcohol abuse? Perhaps the poster would be too large since alcohol affects the entire body.

There isn’t much of a warning in schools, nor is there one for adults. Bruni points out that the taxes on alcohol may increase to provide more revenue for the government, but they still aren’t high enough to curb consumption. He writes that actually, “excise taxes on alcohol have gone down over the last few decades, when adjusted for inflation and measured in terms of the percentage they represent of the wholesale and retail price of a bottle or a can.”

While love overlooks many faults, some faults should not go unchecked. Many people love alcohol, but the damage alcohol does to our society should not continue to be overlooked.

Increase awareness of this not-so-innocent killer today. Tell someone you love about Duffy’s—give them an opportunity to break out of the despairing cycle of addiction.