The opioid epidemic is horrific, claiming an estimated 175 lives daily – the equivalent of a 737 crashing every day and killing everyone on board. (This statistic covers both prescription opiate and heroin/fentanyl overdoses.) The tidal wave of opiate and opioid deaths is widely reported, with shocking statistics and heartbreaking human interest stories appearing in newspapers and magazines every day.

There is another drug that is killing even more Americans, a drug that we overlook because it is legal, widely available, heavily advertised, and well stocked in most of our homes.  Alcohol. 

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.


Because I work with and write about youth and families, I want to tell a story and highlight a few statistics. First, the story.

           In a group at the Juvenile Justice Center recently, I talked with four teens about a recent event on a college campus where some “mystery drug” led to a date rape incident. Tests showed it wasn’t Rohypnol, GHB, or Ketamine, common date rape drugs often mixed with alcohol. Administrators at the school were baffled – what was that drug? 

            “Well, it could have been a marijuana joint sprinkled with valium or another benzo,” said Tony.

            “Yeah,” Joey nodded his head, thinking hard, “but I’ve seen people pass out with just weed and alcohol.”

            “Have you heard of a ‘mystery spliff’”? Austin asked.  “You roll up a joint with tobacco, weed, and meth.  Maybe that was it.”

            “Oh man,” Riley added with a knowing smile, “you don’t need all those drugs to pass out or black out – all you need is alcohol.”

Now the statistics:

·         7.7 million youth ages 12–20 (20.3 percent of this age group) report drinking alcohol in the past month (19.8 percent of males and 20.8 percent of females).

·         1.3 million youth (about 3.3. percent) ages 12–20 report heavy alcohol use in the past month.

·         Research indicates that alcohol use during the teenage years can interfere with normal adolescent brain development and increase the risk of developing AUD (alcohol use disorder). In addition, underage drinking contributes to a range of acute consequences, including injuries, sexual assaults, and deaths--including those from car crashes.

Researchers estimate that each year:

·         1,825 college students between the ages of 18 and 24 die from alcohol-related unintentional injuries, including motor-vehicle crashes.

·         696,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 are assaulted by another student who has been drinking.

·         97,000 students between the ages of 18 and 24 report experiencing alcohol-related sexual assault or date rape.

·         Roughly 20 percent of college students meet the criteria for AUD.

·         About 1 in 4 college students report academic consequences from drinking, including missing class, falling behind in class, doing poorly on exams or papers, and receiving lower grades overall.

The stories and the statistics tell the terrible truth:

The opioid epidemic is a horror.

Life with – and death by -- alcohol is equally horrifying.

Focusing on opioid addiction and overdoses is an imperative.

Overlooking the harm done by the drug alcohol is an outrage.