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  • Marty Lythgoe

Alcohol is a "hard drug"

Over the past few years we have seen various drug epidemics in our country that have triggered the attention of the media, the treatment industry, and even the government. There was the "meth epidemic" and more recently the federal government declared an opioid epidemic, making grant money available for treatment, education, and trainings, as well as government pressure to reign in the over-prescribing of opioid pain medication.


In an article written by Diane Sevening, EdD, LAC, MAC in the Winter Issue of "Advances in Addiction & Recovery," the official publication of NAADAC, she stated, "... drug use goes in cycles. In the 1930s, alcohol was the drug of choice. The 1940s saw a rise in stimulants like amphetamines, and in the 1950s, sedatives and barbiturates topped the list. The early 1960s brought a resurgence of amphetamines, followed by a rise in marijuana and LSD in the late 1960s, heroin in the 1970s, and cocaine/crack in the 1980s. By the time the 1990s arrived, synthetic heroin (fentanyl), sedatives, MDMA (ecstasy) and inhalants were the drugs of concern. In the 2000s, there was a rise in methamphetamines made from pseudoephedrine, synthetic marijuana (K2), and synthetic stimulants (bath salts). Today, common drug use concerns include the abundance of opioids/synthetic opioids, the legalization of marijuana, and the resurgence of methamphetamines. It seems as though when a particular drug is identified as creating an epidemic by the media and federal government, emphasis is taken away from the other drugs that are being used. For example, alcohol use and problems associated with alcohol use always remain a constant concern."


In over 30 years of working in the addiction treatment field, alcohol has always been the number one drug of abuse of those seeking help. Many fail to see their drinking as problematic because it often is masked by the more obvious problems caused by the use of other drugs. Alcohol may no longer be the first drug tried, but it almost always the last drug of choice. And as people age they usually give up the use of illicit substances but continue to drink. After all, alcohol is legal, available, relatively inexpensive, and socially acceptable.


NIAAA Director George F. Koob, PhD states, "The evidence indicates that Americans are getting older and drinking more." He describes how alcohol misuse contributes to and accelerates the aging process, especially frontal lobe function in the brain, the area that controls judgment, decision making, impulsivity, and compulsivity. He goes on to say that, "... alcohol misuse in the elderly population may tap into misdirected attempts at emotional self-regulation, in which an individual consumes alcohol to fix the problem that alcohol helped cause."


That seems like a pretty good definition of alcoholism to me. I don't think the elderly have a corner on that market. Alcohol is a hard drug.


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