Alcohol abuse is a highly complicated problem, in many ways more insidious that other more infamous drugs of abuse. One of the greatest difficulties in addressing the issue is the blurred line between alcohol as a food and as an intoxicant. It has been a part of our cultures and even our religions for thousands of years. Although there are regulatory controls on use and purchase, it is a legal substance that has a huge economic momentum in our society. The alcoholic beverage industry produces millions of jobs and billions of dollars in income and taxes around the world.
In spite of the inherent dangers, alcohol has a highly respectable reputation: quality spirits, beers, and wines are created by skilled artisans and craftsmen. The art of vintages and methods of distillation and brewing and aging are avidly debated by aficionados from all cultures and classes. Alcoholic beverages are part of our traditions, our socializing, and our celebrations. In moderation, it has even been shown to have beneficial health effects.
It is this very air of respectability that can mask the dangers of abuse. An occasional social drink can become a needed stress reliever, which can be the top of a slippery slope into addiction. And while billions of dollars have been spent on education about the hazards of alcohol and on promoting responsible drinking, there are countless factors that create great variance in how alcohol affects each individual:
Unlike heroin, meth, prescription abuse, and even marijuana, alcohol is accepted at all levels of our society. This can make availability and casual abuse easily attainable. It can also provide a kind of invisibility for someone on the road to addiction, since the early stages are hard for loved ones, colleagues, and health professionals to discern from normal social drinking. A drink in the hand doesn’t raise the same alarms as a needle in the arm.
Research indicates genetic factors may influence or create a predisposition to abuse.
Adolescents, teens, and young adults have different capacities for informed, considered judgment than mature adults, which may lead to unwise choices in kinds and levels of drinking. Alcohol also has a more dramatic effect on younger brains and can even have long term negative effects on brain growth and maturity.
Alcohol affects women differently than men, making women more susceptible because of biological differences and lesser body weight.
The energy and momentum of socializing—clubs, parties, vacations, sporting events—put pressure on individuals to keep up with their peers, while often overestimating just how much their peers are actually consuming. Alcopops and Jell-O shots make binge drinking seem like playtime to impressionable adolescents.
Seniors are more impacted by a lesser amount of alcohol than younger individuals, something they may fail to recognize as their bodies change.
Mental disorders can often lead to alcohol abuse to relieve the impact of psychological problems like depression or anxiety. Paradoxically, drinking can easily interfere with efforts at recovery from those same problems.
The hazards and traps that alcohol sets for the unwary can be amazingly deceptive. How many people, asking for a weight-conscious diet cola and rum, know that alcohol mixed with diet sodas is absorbed into their system faster than drinks with sugar in them? Or that high alcohol use brings a significant increase in the risk of death if they contract a critical illness? Or that relationships may suffer because alcohol impairs the ability to read facial expressions or detect changes in mood? Or that binge drinking in adolescents and teens impairs memory and decision-making, endangering their education and future careers, and—for drivers—their lives?
Unlike many drugs of abuse which tend to incapacitate users or make them passive and withdrawn, alcohol abuse often walks hand-in-hand with violent and suicidal behavior; coupled with impaired decision-making, that’s a recipe for tragedy.
Drug testing alone can’t solve these problems. But tests like the EtG Instant Drug Test Dip Card are valuable tools in the hands of professionals who provide resources, guidance, and leadership for addiction rehabilitation and for reduction in criminal recidivism. Probationary programs, drug courts, and rehab facilities rely on such tests to provide them with real-world feedback on the effectiveness of their programs. As providers of quality testing products, we are proud to do our part.