In the midst of America’s opioid epidemic (roughly 72,000 deaths annually), the increased devastation caused by alcohol is being overshadowed. Our country is losing approximately 88,000 people each year to alcohol-related deaths.

A recently released study from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows alcohol related deaths among women increased 67% from 2007-2017.

While it’s true that we’re consuming more alcohol than ever, it is also true that we’re finding more and more connections between use of alcohol and development of diseases including cancer, pancreatitis, cardiovascular problems, and suicide

Dr. Emmanuela Gakidou of Health Metrics and Evaluation explained, “The health risks associated with alcohol are massive. Zero alcohol consumption minimizes the overall risk of health loss.”

I’m often challenged by folks who believe that having a drink or two (especially of red wine) has been shown by research to improve health. I suggest they do some careful fact checking on who paid for those antiquated and invalid studies.

We are a culture that not only condones the use of alcohol, but we also hold it as an expectation that adults consume it at least socially. It’s steeped in our traditions and celebrations. It’s “liquid courage” and a means for releasing inhibition in a socially acceptable manner. Yet hypocritically, we condemn those who develop a problem with it.

It’s time to meaningfully examine the insanity of culturally condoning the use of certain drugs. In an ongoing effort to reduce stigma, I commonly share with folks that I am physiologically and psychologically addicted to two psychostimulant substances (caffeine and nicotine) yet I live in a society that does not consider me a “drug addict.”

I routinely find myself explaining why I choose to abstain from alcohol. The simple truth is that I stopped drinking when I started supporting addiction recovery. I searched for differences between myself and those I served. The only degree of separation I found was that they had drunk more than me.

I came to see alcohol as a problem waiting to happen. I started noticing how even our government separates alcohol from “other drugs.” There’s no scientific reason to do this in research, only cultural motives and pressure from lobbyists.

Addiction, overall, is more at the center of our cultural awareness than it has ever been. Ideally, recovery will become as visible. Between now and then, reducing stigma is perhaps best done with facts: Alcohol is a drug filled with toxins. It ruins health and it ruins lives…increasingly…for decades now.