Alcohol as a Public Health IssueShelby Wall
Each year, over 50 million people experience harm because of another person’s drinking, according to a new study from the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Similar to society’s collective response to secondhand smoke, researchers claim that there should be a public outcry about the secondhand effects of alcohol use. They call the substance’s harm to others “a significant public health issue.”
The Harm Caused by Alcohol
Alcohol can affect others besides the drinker in several ways. The term “secondhand drinking” describes the impact on someone who is exposed to another person’s alcohol use. The associated behaviors include:
- Abuse (verbal, emotional, sexual, or physical)
- Physical violence or the threat of violence
- Domestic violence
- Arguments or aggression
- Driving while under the influence
- Consequences or worsened performance at work or school
- Destroying property
- Financial issues
- Strained relationships
New Research Details Secondhand Effects of Alcohol
The study was conducted by the Alcohol Research Group, located in Emeryville, California. Data came from 8,750 randomly selected adults polled in two parallel 2015 U.S. national surveys: the 2015 National Alcohol’s Harm to Others Survey and the 2015 National Alcohol Survey.
Researchers began their report by explaining that alcohol use ranks among the most significant public health risks nationwide. Excessive drinking affects not just drinkers, but their partners, friends, and family members, meaning that “the societal costs of alcohol are estimated to be twice those incurred by drinkers to themselves.”
The effects that alcohol can have on others take a variety of forms. Researchers from The Alcohol Research Group categorized them as threats, harassment, vandalism, ruined property, physical violence or aggression, driving injuries, financial issues, or family problems. The analysis of survey data revealed that 21% of women and 23% of men had been harmed in one of these ways over the last calendar year.
As with heavy drinking incidences in general, individual characteristics affected how one was impacted by another’s drinking. For example, types of harm varied by gender. Overall, the most common issue was threats or harassment. Women were more likely to suffer from financial and family problems, while men reported higher rates of ruined property, vandalism, and physical aggression.
Factors such as the age and person’s own drinking habits also played a role in how they were threatened by others’ alcohol consumption. Those under 25 were more likely to be harmed by others’ drinking, and the risk also increased for those who were heavy drinkers themselves. Those who drank even moderately were still almost three times more likely to be met with harassment, threats, and driving-related incidents than those who fully abstained from alcohol consumption altogether.
Combatting Secondhand Drinking
Lead author Madhabika B. Nayak, Ph.D., claims that these side effects can be controlled through public policy and social response. Research on secondhand smoke significantly impacted societal acceptance and legislation, and Nayak hopes the same will be true of secondhand drinking studies. Data on the full range of alcohol’s harm to others provides the needed evidence base for efforts to reduce the public health toll of alcohol and influence public opinion. “Control policies, such as alcohol pricing, taxation, reduced availability, and restricting advertising, may be the most effective ways to reduce not only alcohol consumption, but also alcohol’s harm to persons other than the drinker.”
In a commentary response, Timothy Naimi, M.D., advocates for higher taxes on alcohol, explaining that there is strong evidence that these public policies decrease overall levels of excessive drinking and reduce the harms to others across the board. In another note, Sven Andréasson, M.D., writes that setting mandatory minimum prices for alcoholic beverages can contribute to harm reduction.
There are also steps you can take to combat the effects of secondhand drinking.
- Learn as much as you can about addiction. Education can help you to understand what a loved one is going through, as well as to distance yourself from feeling responsible for their alcoholism.
- Protect yourself. If being around a loved one who is drinking puts you or your family in danger, take action and set firm boundaries. Consider working with a trained interventionist to persuade your spouse or family member to seek treatment.
- Attend support meetings. It’s not just addicts who need support – their families and friends do, too. Seek out families who are undergoing similar challenges or a local AlAnon meeting.
- Seek professional help. Begin attending counseling or therapy sessions in order to learn self-care and coping mechanisms that can help you to overcome secondhand drinking’s harmful effects.
Accredited, Trauma-Focused Care
Concise Recovery offers addiction treatment from detox to outpatient care. Addiction doesn’t develop in a vacuum – traumatic events and life’s stresses can serve as the catalyst for out of control drinking. If you are being impacted by someone else’s drinking or drug use, we encourage you to contact us today. There is hope, and healing is possible. Call 1-888-978-5424 to learn more.