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The Heavy Toll of a Legal Drug

Of all the drugs of abuse, alcohol takes the greatest toll on our society. According to a 1998 report from the National Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction at Columbia University, alcohol is more closely associated with crimes of violence than any other drug. It is a bigger culprit in murder, rape, assault, and child and spouse abuse than any illegal drug. Untreated alcoholics incur health costs that are at least twice as high as those for non-alcoholics. In 1996, the indirect and direct costs related to alcohol reached $86 billion.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy deals with illegal drugs such as cocaine and heroin but doesn't devote attention to alcoholism. Consequently, one U.S. congressman is trying to set up a separate national commission to do the job. Minnesota Republican Jim Ramstad is a recovering alcoholic. He says the goal of a two-year national commission on alcoholism would be to streamline and better coordinate existing government programs, boost public and private sector support for alcohol treatment and research, evaluate the cost effectiveness of treatment and improve alcoholism research.

-- Janet Firshein

Chart: People with Alcoholics or Problem Drinkers in the Family

People with Problem Drinkers in the Family

Chart: Courtesy of The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Chart Source: Schoenborn, CA. Exposure to Alcoholism in the Family. Advance Data from National Health Center for Health Statistics, No. 205, September 30, 1991.

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