Comparing the Dangers of Alcoholism to Painkiller Addiction

As the opioid addiction epidemic has garnered national attention, it can be easy to forget that alcohol addiction is still highly prevalent and as deadly as ever. While the dangers of drinking alcohol are fairly well known, withdrawal from alcohol can also be deadly, as evidenced by the recent tragic death of actor Nelsan Ellis.

Every type of addiction comes with specific dangers. When comparing prescription painkillers to alcohol, painkillers are more dangerous in the short term. However, the long-term risks to an alcohol user’s health are far more significant and often unavoidable after prolonged excessive alcohol use.

Opioid painkillers carry a higher risk of accidental overdose, and can easily lead to heroin addiction and all the associated risks of illegal street drugs. Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be deadly, and yet opioid withdrawal can be particularly difficult.

Effects of Painkiller Addiction

The United States has been in the grips of a prescription opioid painkiller epidemic for years. Prescription drug overdoses have now overtaken motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental death in the United States.

One large factor contributing to this phenomenon is lack of awareness. Too many Americans simply assume prescription drugs are safe because they come from a doctor and not a drug dealer. However, prescription painkillers are habit-forming and can quickly lead a user into addiction.

Gateway to Heroin

Once patients who develop painkiller addictions can no longer secure more pills, heroin becomes an attractive alternative. This gateway effect is another reason why painkiller addiction is so dangerous in the short term. When people with painkiller addiction seek out alternatives, heroin is widely accessible and relatively inexpensive.

Unfortunately, there has been a marked increase in altered heroin on the streets, some of which contains previously unknown additives that produce intense and often deadly effects. Heroin laced with fentanyl is a particularly deadly danger.  

Alcohol’s Undeniable Effects

While prescription painkiller addiction is extremely dangerous, alcohol addiction has a higher mortality rate. Alcohol carries significant short-term risks, including death by alcohol poisoning and internal organ failure, but the long-term effects and health problems caused by prolonged alcohol abuse are what make alcohol addiction especially deadly.

Alcohol use is very prevalent in the United States, and, due to its social acceptability, many people develop alcohol dependency without realizing it until it progresses to dangerous levels.

According to a 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than half of interviewees reported they consumed alcohol at least once in the past month. Almost 30 percent of survey participants indicated that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month.

Long-Term Health Complications from Alcohol

Top 5 Deadliest Drugs in America - Elevate Addiction ServicesWhile painkiller addiction may carry a higher risk of overdose and health problems in the short term, alcohol carries a significantly higher risk of creating medical conditions such as:

  • Heart disease
  • Liver failure
  • Hypertension
  • Kidney disease
  • Cancer
  • Cirrhosis

According to data from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, about 46 percent of all liver disease deaths in 2013 involved alcohol. That same year, about 48 percent of all cirrhosis deaths involved alcohol.

Drinking alcohol increases the risk of developing cancers of the:

  • Liver
  • Breast
  • Pharynx
  • Larynx
  • Esophagus
  • Mouth

Withdrawal from Alcohol vs. Opioids

Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol can be life-threatening in some cases, which is why medically supervised detox is always recommended for those seeking to overcome alcohol addiction.

You don’t know if you’re one of the people who will have serious withdrawal symptoms until it happens, so it’s best to have medical staff on hand just in case.

Even though opioid withdrawal symptoms are usually not life threatening, ceasing opioid use is still difficult because the symptoms can be extremely painful, beginning just hours after the last dose and possibly lasting longer than a week.

For these reasons, it’s nearly impossible to quit without professional assistance to manage the symptoms until withdrawal is over.

Accessibility of Alcohol and Prescription Painkillers

Prescription painkillers are legally accessible with a doctor’s prescription, and the fact that they come from a respected medical professional can disguise the inherent danger in using these drugs.

Many doctors are now being more careful about prescribing opiate drugs and warning their patients of the dangers. In several states, prescription databases have been put into place to prevent addicts from doctor shopping to get more painkillers, but this has had the side effect of sending people who can’t get a prescription to heroin dealers instead.

Alcohol is legal for anyone of drinking age to possess, and is widely available and socially acceptable. This may cause people to ignore the early warning signs of addiction and prolong the damage they do to their bodies. Alcohol is the fourth-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., and it’s vital for Americans to understand the inherent dangers of alcohol abuse.

Which Is Deadlier: Opioids or Alcohol?

In 2014, the most recent year that data is available, prescription painkillers (opioids and opiates) were responsible for approximately 20,000 deaths in the U.S. Heroin addiction, which often stems from prescription painkiller addiction, led to around 13,000 deaths. The two combined add up to approximately 33,000 deaths.

By comparison, alcohol was responsible for about 29,000 deaths in a single year. That’s greater than prescription painkillers, but less than painkillers and heroin combined.

Regardless of how the numbers compare, they’re still way too high. When it comes to the lives of you or a loved one, even one fatality due to any of these addictions is too many.

Find Help for Dependency at Elevate

Alcohol and painkillers are two of the most widely abused substances in the United States. Both are dangerous and have painfully affected the lives of millions of people, and each carries different types of dangers. Alcohol has a much higher probability of creating significant long-term health problems, but painkillers can be immediately fatal when someone overdoses.

Regardless of the type of addiction, the hazards that accompany dependency can be life-threatening, which is why Elevate Addiction Services is here to help.

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