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Echo Press Editorial: Alcohol carries a costly toll

Instead of spending so much time agonizing over the consequences of legalizing marijuana, more energy and attention should be focused on an already legal drug – alcohol.

Sure, we all know how bad alcohol abuse is, but it’s become such an interwoven part of our social norms, it’s easy to lose sight of the heavy cost it carries and how many lives it destroys. A new report last week found that binge drinking and other forms of excessive alcohol use in the U.S. claims nearly 88,000 lives per year. Those deaths erased more than 2.5 million years of life that would have been lived each year had the victims not been killed in drunk-driving crashes, by liver cirrhosis or as a result of other alcohol-related causes.

Alcohol abuse cost the U.S. an estimated $223.5 billion in 2006 alone, according to another report published last year in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine. It works out to be a societal cost of about $1.90 a drink.

In the police and sheriff blotter, it’s stunning to see how many problems are alcohol-related – domestic fights, assaults, threats of suicide, drunk driving, property damage, medical calls, neighbor disputes, thefts and more. Here’s just a sample from the weekend of June 20-22:

Intoxicated patient – an officer escorted a male party for medical treatment. He had consumed a liter of Black Velvet.

Drunk male – an officer gave a ride to a drunk male who fell off his bike by the townhouses on County Road 82.

Driving complaint – an intoxicated male left the Cash Wise Liquors parking lot, headed toward McDonald’s.

Suicide threats – a suicidal male, stating that he is bipolar, was under the influence of alcohol. His friends had to take knives away from him.

Fight/disturbance – a woman’s ex-husband was intoxicated and she wanted him removed.

Threats – a resident was threatened by another man. The suspect, a juvenile, was cited for underage consumption of alcohol.

Burglary – whiskey, beer and money were stolen from a cabin on Maple Island Drive.

Medical call – a 40-year-old male, suspected to be suffering from alcohol poisoning, was vomitting blood and being combative in Evansville.

Drunk – a wife was very intoxicated and crying, which was affecting a child, who was also crying. Her drinking violated a court order.

That’s only a fraction of the reported cases. One can only imagine the pain, violence and other problems alcohol abuse is causing behind closed doors.

We need to focus more attention on preventing alcohol abuse by having harder talks with pre-teen children in our homes and schools. We need to dig deeper into why people drink and address those problems as well. We need to revitalize treatment programs for alcohol abuse and find better ways to cut into that tremendous cost of $223.5 billion and 88,000 lives.