Knowing the Facts About Drugs & Alcohol

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by Famatta Gibson, MSW Candidate
Social Work Clinical Intern, Continuum Recovery Services

This week is National Drugs and Alcohol Facts Week – March 30 – April 5, and an opportunity to reflect on how drugs and alcohol afflict our schools, society, state and nation. It is impossible to ignore the problem when it is visible on street corners and inside the medicine cabinets in our homes.

The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) latest survey on Drug Use reveal the extent to which our communities are affected. The numbers below are rounded based on the survey results:

  • 139.8 million Americans ages 12 or older are alcohol users; and out of that, 67.1 million of them were binge drinkers.
  • 14.8 million people ages 12 or older meet criteria to be diagnosed with alcohol use disorder.
  • 10.3 million people ages 12 or older reportedly misuse opioids – the vast majority misuse prescription pain relievers.
  • 2 million people aged 12 or older have an opioid use disorder.
  • 4.4 million people ages 12 or older have been diagnosed with marijuana use disorder.

This research data is truly eye opening. As I reflect on it, I cannot help but think about Continuum’s clients who are currently struggling with or in recovery from alcohol and drug use. The reality of COVID-19 hit me at the same time. Due to social distancing, all in-person group gatherings, including Alcoholics/ Narcotics Anonymous meetings and other support groups across America have been canceled or moved online.

How can we help our clients and their families cope with substance use disorders, and prevent social distancing from becoming a trigger for relapse?

First, it’s good to get some facts about what excessive use of alcohol and drugs does to the body and mind.  This is some of the information:

  1. First, alcohol abuse potentially affects and damages vital functions of the body.  It can affect how the brain works; it can damage the heart and cause stroke, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and stretch and cause drooping of the heart muscle.  It takes a toll on the liver and can lead to fatty liver, hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.  It can cause pancreatitis, which isa dangerous inflammation of the blood vessels in the pancreas.  It is also directly linked to several cancers, including throat cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer, and colon cancer.
  2. 13 years old is the average age children start experimenting with drugs.
  3. Alcohol is the most commonly abused substance, and the 3rd most common cause of death in the United States.
  4. 50% of all suicides, and over 50% of all violent crimes, are cause by alcohol and/or drugs.
  5. Over 50% of all traffic accidents involve alcohol or drugs.
  6. 80% of all domestic violence reports are somehow related to alcohol or drugs.
  7. An estimated 60% of poor work performance can be tied back to drugs or alcohol.
  8. 34 out of 35 alcoholics have never received treatment.
  9. Pain killers, tranquilizers and stimulants are the most commonly abused prescription drugs.
  10. Marijuana, cocaine, and hallucinogens are the most commonly abused illegal drugs.
  11. More than $600 billion is lost annually from the U.S. economy due to substance abuse.

It is important for those fighting addiction to know that they are never alone and that there is hope! “The only thing missing from AA is hugs,” states USA Today’s newsletter, which highlighted the strength of the AA/NA community’s commitment to fellowship and welcoming newcomers amidst coronavirus. The General Service Office of Alcoholics Anonymous says it clearly: “By attending digital meetings, groups can focus on AAs primary purpose: to carry its message of recovery to the alcoholic who still suffers.”  Please do not let social distancing stop you from reaching out for help. Resources can be found on Continuum's Coronavirus Resources page. 

Most importantly, know that you are fierce, you are awesome, and you are worth it! With more restrictions being placed on communities, it is easy to get sucked into the negative news, but I encourage you to use all the coping skills available to you. Here are some suggestions:

  • Use the phone: 12 step groups are creating contact lists and staying in touch by phone, email and social media. Remember to ask for phone numbers and contact information when you attend a virtual meeting and stay in touch.
  • Avoid people, places and things. In times of social distancing this takes a different meaning: avoid isolation by connecting virtually, take time away from triggering family conversations (This Addictive Behavior Guided meditation may help), and watch the content you view online.
  • Feeling triggered? “Don’t use, no matter what,” as NA literature states. Go to an online meeting. Talk to other recovering addicts. Spend some time reading recovery literature.
  • Keep coming back. It works. Online meetings don’t have to feel impersonal – there is nothing more powerful than people in recovery helping one another. Staying connected is vital to our survival from any illness. 

Here are more sites for information:

  1. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes in detail the effects of alcohol in the body:
  2. The National Institute on Drug Abuse offers resources to understand the effects of different drugs on the brain and the body:
  3. Other useful information about signs, symptoms, risks, myths, facts and how the drug develops:
  4. Some other key health implications can be reviewed at the SAMHSA website.
  5. Other useful information about addiction signs, symptoms, risks, myths and facts can be found at helpline

Continuum of Care, Inc.’s mission is to enable people who are challenged with mental illness, intellectual disabilities, addiction, or homelessness to rebuild a meaningful life and thrive in the community.