Midwest Voices

Facing society’s drinking problem

Updated: 2013-09-28T22:45:12Z

By CAROL DARK AYRES

Midwest Voices

America has a drinking problem — across all ages and incomes. With recent discussions about the connection between rape and alcohol, it is time to look at alcohol abuse statistics.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, conservative estimates of sexual assault prevalence suggest that 25 percent of American women have experienced sexual assault, including rape. About half of those cases involve alcohol consumption by the perpetrator, victim, or both.

In 2011, 9,878 people were killed by drunken drivers (211 were children — 62 percent were killed by a drunken parent or caregiver). Alcohol was involved in four in 10 violent crimes, 86 percent of homicides, 37 percent of assaults, 60 percent of sexual offenses, 57 percent of domestic violence perpetrated by men, and 13 percent of child abusers. In addition, alcohol is a factor in other unintentional injuries such as falls, burns, drowning and unintended pregnancy.

Teen alcohol use kills about 6,000 people each year, more than all illegal drugs combined. Almost one in 10 high school seniors has been involved in extreme binge drinking — 10 or more drinks, according to a study by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research.

Colleges are still trying to separate the dangerous twosome of alcohol and hazing — 82 percent of deaths from hazing involve alcohol. About 44 percent of college students were classified as binge drinkers (five or more drinks for a man and four or more drinks for a woman in about two hours), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 90 percent of alcohol consumed by kids under the age of 21 is in the form of binge drinks.

Binge drinking is not limited to teenagers and college kids alone; according to the CDC website, one in six adults binge drinks about four times a month.

In addition, there is the financial cost. A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine estimated that binge drinking costs the United States more than $223.5 billion from losses in productivity, health care, crime and other expenses. Alcohol tax brings in about 12 cents per drink while costing federal, state and local governments about 62 cents per drink.

In light of these facts, why are we mute about such a significant problem? One reason might be this fact: binge drinking is more common among those with household incomes of $75,000 or more.

The other issue is that our culture accepts drinking, and that includes binge drinking. If you broach this topic with adults, they will say that they cannot be critical of binge drinkers because they themselves have been guilty. But as our statistics continue to climb — teenagers dying before they understand the realities of drinking, college kids believing they must drink to prove they fit in, drunken men and women putting themselves at risk for rape in college and the military — it is time to have a serious discussion about the dangers of alcohol.

We do not have to make alcohol illegal as the country tried in the 1920s but we could use a strong public relations campaign warning of the dangers. We could also increase taxes on alcohol as some states have done for cigarettes.

The elephant in the living room is drinking, when are we going to deal with it?

Carol Dark Ayres is a retired educator from Leavenworth. To reach her, send email to oped@kcstar.com or write to Midwest Voices, c/o Editorial Page, The Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64108.

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