CATES: Alcohol Awareness MonthCarol Cates is the chief nursing officer at Odessa Regional Medical Center. You can reach her via e-mail at

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, one in every 12 adults, or 17.6 million people suffer from an alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence. Alcohol Awareness Month was started in 1987 to help reduce the stigma associated with alcohol addiction. Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease, it has genetic components that can contribute, and it can be progressive — even to death if untreated.
If I were to substitute the words diabetes or heart disease for alcohol addiction in the previous statement, there would be no question of affected people obtaining treatment or payment by insurers. But because there are so many stigmas attached to alcohol addiction, many people do not receive the treatment they need.
The theme for Alcohol Awareness Month this year is “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow.” The goal being to educate about treatment and prevention, and to show that with treatment there is hope for tomorrow among addicted individuals.
The costs of alcohol addiction are significant. The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, approximately $27 billion in health care dollars are spent annually related directly to alcohol addiction, but because of the effects of alcohol addiction on crime, lost work productivity, and injury to others, the actual costs of alcohol addiction are closer to $250 billion annually. That is just the cost in dollars, the real costs are the human costs.
Acute causes of death related to alcohol abuse are motor vehicle accidents, suicide, homicide, alcohol poisoning, fall and fire related injuries. Chronic diseases which can be related to alcohol abuse are alcohol-related liver disease, pancreatitis, high blood pressure, stroke, liver cancer, esophageal cancer, and alcohol related heart failure. Approximately 88,000 people die each year related to alcohol abuse.
Delphi Health Group states alcohol abuse doesn’t just affect the alcoholic, it has profound effects on their family, potentially resulting in poor communication, spousal conflict, and domestic violence. Children who have an alcoholic parent can have long-term emotional issues and/or physical harm due to lack of clear and consistent household rules, increased exposure to parental conflict, poor parent-child bonding, lack of parental supervision, increased exposure to violence and other forms of child abuse, and increased risks for mental illness. Children of alcoholics are 4 to 9 times more likely to suffer from alcohol addiction than children of non-alcoholics.
Unfortunately, despite the serious economic and social costs, less than one third of Americans with alcohol addition will seek treatment. This is why decreasing stigmas and increasing awareness are so important. Removing those barriers will allow more individuals to seek and receive treatment. Only then will the health care system have any hope of creating a sustainable impact in alcohol addiction reduction.
Alcohol abuse is rarely confined just to the home environment. It can also have significant impacts on the work environment. Lost productivity, absenteeism, on the job injuries, work fatalities, theft and low employee morale have all been related to alcohol abuse.
Thirty-five percent of occupational injuries and 11% of workplace fatalities are directly related to alcohol consumption. However, work can also be a great mechanism for encouraging individuals to seek treatment. Employers can encourage and support treatments and take a proactive stance on dealing with the issues related to alcohol abuse.
If you think you or a loved one may have an addiction, Facing Addiction with NCADD, has an online quiz to help you find out at While these quizzes can give you some idea of where you stand, your best option is to seek the guidance of your health care provider. Not only can they help you with resources to help treat alcohol addiction, they can make sure any other health issues associated with alcohol addiction are treated appropriately as well.