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Alcohol is the Third Leading Cause of Preventable Death in the U.S

alcohol_bottle_shutterstock_158423681By Deirdre Imus, 2-11-20
As the new year grows older and your resolutions of January turn into your frustrations of February, it’s a good time to think about one particular vice many people try to give up each new year, if not for the long-term then at least for a month. The term “Dry January” emerged just a few years ago, and has taken off as a means to help people “detox” from the excesses of the holiday season, where party after party can lead to drink after drink. (It should be noted that Dry January is a growing trend intended for moderate drinkers, not for those with more serious issues with alcohol such as those with alcohol use disorder (AUD). Those with AUD should consult their health care provider immediately to create a care plan, as quitting alcohol “cold turkey” can be life threatening).
 
Basically, committing to Dry January encourages people to take a month-long break from alcohol. It started in the United Kingdom but has gained popularity in the United States, with people looking to lay off the booze but also derive some health benefits from not drinking, including weight loss, improved sleep, better insulin resistance, and clearer skin.  
 
While Dry January might be a good place to start, it’s not clear if this one month respite from alcohol leads to longer periods of time without drinking, and in fact a survey out of the UK earlier this year revealed that one-third of people who committed to Dry January had already failed by the tenth of the month. That said, six months after the survey began, 7 out of 10 people continued to drink “less riskily” than before. It’s not easy to give up something you enjoy, as any of us can attest, but continuing to think of alcohol as benign or even beneficial is risky, and people who have stuck to their Dry January commitment would be wise to continue.
 
Though it does not receive as much attention as other major, widespread epidemics, alcohol consumption is a major and growing health concern in this country, and it’s one we don’t consider enough as contributing to a wide range of problems. Much like smoking, drinking alcohol is perfectly legal.  Alcohol use is not merely accepted in our culture, it is encouraged. People who choose not to drink, whatever the reason, are sometimes made to feel like pariahs. 
 
This would never be the case for other dangerous substances, such as opioids or methamphetamines, as writer Alanna Ketler observed in an article published late last year on the website Collective Evolution. In it, she highlighted a startling statistic: alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., trailing only tobacco (first) and poor diet/lack of physical activity (second). And yet, advertisements for alcoholic products persist in virtually every medium: radio, television, magazines. There is no safe space from this massive industry. 
 
Anti-smoking groups have in recent years released ads highlighting the extreme ways in which smoking and other forms of tobacco use can make us sick, and kill us. These ads have been effective because they show us the faces of the people now coping with the devastating health consequences of having never kicked the habit. It’s almost impossible to look away from these people, and we shouldn’t.
 
Perhaps a similar approach to the horrors of drinking should be employed. Let’s see a patient living with end-stage liver disease after having ravaged this most vital organ due to years of alcohol abuse. Show us a family torn apart by an alcoholic parent’s addiction, or by the decision of one person to get behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated, and take the life of another.
 
If you stopped drinking for Dry January and have reaped the rewards, why not stick with it for the longer term? Not only are you doing wonders for your sleep, weight, skin, and even personal relationships, research has closely linked alcohol use with increased cancer risk. There is truly no downside to giving up alcohol. The only thing standing your way…is you!
 
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