Public Health Surveillance and Alcohol-Related Injuries

Considered a crisis situation in the United States, excessive drinking and binge drinking are problems that require serious attention. The detrimental effect it has on public safety is more than worthy of all the effort necessary to not only reduce it but eradicate it. More significant are the innocent lives that are impacted. This devastating impact ranges from financial cost, physical injuries and rehabilitation, and many times, fatalities.

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Public Health Surveillance and Alcohol-Related Injuries

The CDC’s Alcohol Program

The CDC has established goals of giving the public a better understanding of this crisis situation regarding binge and heavy drinking and its direct negative impact on public health and safety. Public health surveillance is one of the major tools to combat this serious problem. There are several prevention strategies in play that will move toward better public health and safety. One strategy is to reduce the number of bars. This was one method that reduced exposure to violent crime as a result of heavy and binge drinking. More alcohol advertising is also a preventive measure that gives the public knowledge regarding this destructive behavior. Knowledge is power and using that knowledge is the wisdom needed to have a direct and positive influence on the problem.

Other recommended strategies include increasing alcohol taxes, regulating the alcohol outlet density [the number of sellers in a given area], as well as holding commercial hosts responsible for the amount of alcohol given to any one person on a single occasion. Limiting the days and hours that alcohol is sold is another effective method. Especially for heavy drinkers, brief interventions and electronic screening are effective methods to address this serious issue on an individual level.

Specific statistics are available on the ARDI application. Information can be retrieved regarding alcohol-related issues. Estimates of this information are gathered from 2006 to 2010. Telephone surveys are collected using the BRFSS (the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System) to gather information according to each state regarding at-risk behaviors, chronic health conditions and use of the preventive services in place.

Excessive and Binge Drinking

More than fifteen drinks per week for a male is considered excessive. That is quite a bit of alcohol and means that the person is a heavy drinker. This fact denotes a serious problem exists for the drinker. More than eight drinks per week for a female is considered excessive or heavy drinking. It is evident that the number of drinks varies when it comes to male and female. A binge drinker is a person who drinks an excessive number of drinks on one occasion. For the male, this would be more than five drinks per occasion and for the female, more than four.

It is safe to say that this amount of alcohol is above the legal limit per any state law. This is also evidence that the chances of an accident or injury [critical or fatal] are just waiting to happen. Although the promotion to not drink and drive is advertised often, there are those who take no heed. Because of this attitude, steps have to be taken to make sure public health and safety is not jeopardized. Statistics show that in 2014 almost 25% of adults over the age of 18 reported being binge drinkers. Almost 7% percent reported being heavy drinkers.

Harmful Health Effects of Binge and Excessive Drinking

The health costs are high when it comes to drinking alcohol. From unintentional and intentional injuries to short and long-term impact on physical health, alcohol poisoning is a deeply wounding result of too much alcohol. Sexually transmitted diseases, unintended pregnancy, and fetal alcohol syndrome are just a part of how this problem affects more than the drinker and extends to the community. The damage is never minimal nor exclusive.

Physical health problems for the drinker include cardiovascular diseases; liver disease, neurological damage as well as making other diseases worse like diabetes.  Long-term diseases include high blood pressure, heart disease, and strokes. All of this directly hits the economy for additional healthcare costs that can be significantly decreased by taking a pro-active stance; particularly on the part of the drinker. Intervention is a key factor in helping those with this serious and deadly problem.

When considering the magnitude of this problem, understand that 2.5 million years of life has been lost from alcohol-related deaths. Almost 46% of the deaths from liver disease in 2013 involved alcohol. Another important fact is that 48% of all cirrhosis deaths from the period 2006 to 2010 were alcohol related. In traffic, alcohol was involved in 31% of the traffic-related death. It is sobering to realize that 28 people die every day in car crashes as a result of alcohol-impaired drivers. In 2014, over one million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Economic Burden of Excessive Drinking

Ponder the amount of money that is involved in excessive drinking. Financial statistics reveal that it has cost the United States over $249 billion dollars in various areas. Binge drinking was responsible for 77% of this amount. This includes losses in productivity. An injured worker cannot produce effectively and neither can an impaired worker. Healthcare costs increase because of injuries. Crime rises and other expenses as a result of these crimes occurring. All of these points are significant in the matter of binge and excessive drinking.

Underage Drinking

The legal requirement is that a person needs to be at least 21 years of age to buy alcohol or drink it. How is it possible then that almost 21% of high school aged children reported being binge drinkers? A study conducted in 2013 by age group showed that in a thirty-day period, high school aged students reported this percentage of binge drinking. Underage drinking accounts for 4,300 deaths in the US annually and binge drinkers consume 90 percent of alcohol. This is significant considering that those underage are the third largest group of binge drinkers.

Underage drinking has contributed to many of the problems experienced by US teens. School problems include attendance, focus and failing grades. Social problems include negative behavior that can turn violent or teens turn to isolation. And legal problems are the consequences when others are hurt or injured and contribute to the financial burdens of parents for drunk driving. Contributing to the economic burden, emergency department visits for injuries related to underage drinking were almost 200,000 in 2010.

Summary

The CDC has adopted research and prevention strategies to address this serious problem. Using the tools of public health surveillance, research as well as prevention methods, the ultimate goal is to communicate to the public the seriousness of the problem. Harm, injury and death are directly related to excessive alcohol use. The CDC’s Alcohol Program has established a scientific foundation for this evidence. This detrimental impact on lives as well as the economy of the US needs to be addressed and the CDC has taken an active role in increasing awareness and utilizing preventive measures to combat the crisis.

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