Alcohol and public health are significant societal issues that need urgent attention. When we think about individuals who are impacted by alcoholism, we tend to think of the person drinking and those who are living with the alcoholic. This can include partners, children, other family members and friends.
The truth is, that excessive drinking impacts the community that we live in.
One may wonder how is that possible? What if I only drink at home, never drive impaired and do not go to work drunk or impaired?
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heavy alcohol use cost the United States approximately $269 billion dollars in 2018. This cost can be contributed to loss in workplace productivity, health care expenses resulting from drinking, property damage and car accidents.
So while someone may think that their drinking isn’t impacting anyone else, it truly does.
Before we get into the impact of Alcohol and Public Health, it’s a good idea to have a solid understanding of what we mean by Public Health.
What is included in Public Health? What can the information about Public Health be used for? How am I impacted?
A simple definition of Public health would be the efforts used in maintaining and improving (where possible) the overall health of the community. Public Health efforts can work to improve a concern that is specific to a community, or a concern that has an impact on an entire country.
For example, let’s look at the use of tobacco products. If you think about the last 30 years or so, there has been some significant advances in our understanding of the consequences associated with the use of tobacco products. We know the link to cancers and other health concerns.
Public Health efforts have worked to educate individuals about the dangers associated with tobacco with the hope of reducing the use of these products. Education programs such as D.A.R.E. educated students in elementary and middle school, while television commercials and other advertisements were used to reach older populations.
Public Health research can help develop recommendations for educational programs that can help improve health disparities, conduct research and then make recommendations for positive change.
We are directly impacted by Alcohol and Public Health concerns. Take a look at the use of tobacco products again. If you live in a community with lower education programs and outreach regarding the dangers associated with smoking, there may be a higher use of tobacco products in your community.
This would likely exposure you to more second hand smoke, as well as impact your friends and family who use the products.
Communities who have ample education and outreach may have a lower use of tobacco products which would in turn have less health costs, fewer health concerns among the community, and likely a cleaner environment (ie. Lack of cigarette butts and other tobacco waste).
As mentioned above, excessive drinking can have a hefty cost on a community.
When we think about the potential for workplace productivity, this can also impact a person’s risk for losing their job. Unemployment rates would be a concern monitored by Public Health officials.
Health care expenses can include anything from minor injuries, such as a broken wrist, to other injuries that are more serious. Alcohol is known to impair our judgement making skills which can contribute to someone acting in ways that they wouldn’t when they are sober. Additional risk taking behaviors when drinking would increase a person’s risk of injury.
Other expenses can include emergency services including policing, car accidents and property. These too can be attributed to the judgement impairment caused by alcohol as well as the poor balance and coordination.
According to the Center of Disease Control, costs related to individuals binge drinking is on the rise. These costs can account for approximately 77% of alcohol expenses in some parts of the United States.
As mentioned above, one of the functions of Public Health agencies and officials is to do research related to health concerns and make recommendations to local authorities.
Heavy drinking is not a new concern for Public Health officials. In addition to costing the United States $269 billion in 2018, there was approximately 95,000 deaths that were the result of excessive alcohol use.
When Public Health agencies talk about excessive drinking, they are often referring to specific concerns such as binge drinking, excessive drinking, women who drink when pregnant and those who drink under the age of 21.
The Center for Disease Control is the primary Public Health agency in the United States and offers recommendations to combat excessive drinking health concerns on their website. Recommendations include:
Much of what is discussed earlier sounds like it’s on a larger scale that you may not be able to directly impact. For example, changing the laws and/or enforcing them may not be within your responsibility.
One thing would be to be mindful of your own drinking behaviors. Do you binge drink or drink heavily? If so, take time to think about what is facilitating your drinking, and if this is the life style you would like to have. Besides the effects on your community, heavy use of alcohol can have some significant consequences on your health.
If you have concerns about you’re drinking, talk to a health professional. This could be a counselor, or your general physician. Either would be able to listen to your concerns and talk to you about appropriate next steps. This could be cutting down on your use, or going into an alcohol treatment program
You can also be mindful of encouraging others to engage in heavy alcohol use. This can be when you go out to dinner with a friend, holidays or host an event in your home. If someone is heavily intoxicated, help them find a safe alternative to driving home.
This can also include not serving alcohol to women who are pregnant and those who you know and/or suspect are underage.
If you do choose to drink, do so in a way that aligns with the recommended use of alcohol. The standard recommendation would be one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. It is also recommended to have days where you do not drink to allow your body to recuperate.
You can support your communities’ efforts. If you live in a community where there are regulations about the days and times that alcohol is served, respect them and those who are following it.
You can become an active participant in Public Health! Reach out to local Public Health agencies and ask about volunteering and/or any employment opportunities that they have available. If you would like to be involved, there are likely opportunities near you.