By Lethbridge Herald Opinon on December 7, 2017.
Research shows complex problem carries a huge cost for society in assorted ways
During a recent flight between Vancouver and Calgary, I sat next to a young teacher. Like many passing conversations, we casually asked, “Where are you from? What do you do?”
When she asked the latter question, in part I responded by saying, “I am writing a book about alcohol-related issues.” When I told her the name of the manuscript, “Irrepressible Maggie – rebounding from alcohol impaired decisions,”* she picked up on the sub-title. She wanted to know more about the book, especially about Maggie’s experiences.
The young woman was a “recovering alcoholic,” largely with the support of her friends and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). What was most memorable about her revelations were the words “I didn’t know that my life wasn’t about fighting with my family, conflict with my partner, hangovers, puking, crying jags and misery.” Her words of anguish resonate with me to this moment.
Fortunately, the young, well-educated teacher is moving on. She has found healthier alternatives for her life … ones with which she seems well satisfied. But, as she and many others have claimed, “Recovery is on-going. You’re never fully recovered from this addiction.” What was especially inspiring about our conversation was her admittance to being an alcoholic. Like Maggie, most drinkers with alcoholic dependence refuse to admit they have a problem. They are deniers.
After more than five years of doing research and writing this book, the harsh realities of alcohol abuse are almost overwhelming. What became very evident was the dramatically increasing abuse of alcohol by women. Consider just some of the hard evidence:
Based on a 13-year international study in 35 nations, Dr. Sharon Wilsnack claims there is a “global epidemic” in women’s drinking. Gabrielle Glasser, a New York Times national health trends reporter, has documentation that American women are drinking more often and in larger quantities. “Young women alone are not driving these statistics – their moms and grandmothers are, too.” A leading Canadian journalist, Leah McLaren, has stated: “All over the Western world, women are drinking more than we ever did before. The latest Statscan figures show a startling 30 per cent rise in the number of Canadian women in risky drinking … from a decade ago.”
The adverse effects are not limited to women per se. Their children and subsequent generations are being seriously harmed. In Alberta, an estimated 36,000 mothers have Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Disorder (FASD). One of their teenagers set my house on fire and destroyed it in 2001. In a shocking “Good Housekeeping” article, Heather Millar provided a factual account of children beginning to drink alcohol at the young ages of 9, 10, 11 years of age.
Alcohol abuse is one of the most complex, costly challenges facing Canadian society. Alcohol kills more people than HIV, AIDS, TB and violence combined (Washington Post, May 12, 2015). Heavy or regular alcohol consumption increases the risk of developing cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, liver, breast, colon and rectum (United States National Institute of Health, 2013). Alcohol-related health care, law enforcement and lost productivity cost Canadians $14.6 billion in 2013 (Canadian Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, 2013). Globally, in 2013 more than 3.3 million people died as result of alcohol consumption, up 32 per cent from 2011 (World Health Organization, May, 2014).
Such are the human costs. What are the benefits?
Al Barnhill of Lethbridge is a former Professor of Management at the University of Lethbridge who has worked in the fields of teaching, counselling, management consulting and international development. His new book, “Irrepressible Maggie – rebounding from alcohol-impaired decisions”* (University of Lethbridge, 2017) is available at the U of L Book Store and Chapters Lethbridge); all proceeds will be donated to Alcoholics Anonymous and Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD).
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