Though national attention has understandably shifted toward opioid and heroin addiction, a problem that continues to take thousands of lives each year, alcohol abuse and addiction remain one of the most dominant addiction threats in the United States. Each year, nearly 88,000 Americans dies from alcohol-related causes. In 2014, there were nearly 10,000 alcohol-related driving deaths, accounting for 31 percent of overall motor vehicle fatalities nationwide. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports 19,388 deaths from alcoholic liver disease and 30,722 deaths from alcohol-related health issues, excluding accidents and homicides, in 2015. American youth is at an increasingly higher risk for alcohol abuse.
The state of Florida is, in no way, insulated from the alcohol abuse problem plaguing the rest of the country. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports the following numbers for 2015 in Florida:
- Drunk driving fatalities (.08 BAC or higher): 797 representing 0.27% of all total traffic deaths, a 14.8% increase from last year.
- DUI arrests: 31,783
- DUI convictions: 26,291
- Taxpayer subsidy of drunk driving fatalities: $3.5 billion
- Three-time offenders: 113,076
- Five-time offenders: 11,681
Many of these numbers represent an increase from the previous year, indicating a step backward in state and federal awareness initiatives.
What Is Being Done?
Two years ago, Florida expanded its existing law that allows judges to order ignition interlocks for first-time DUI offenders with a blood-alcohol level of .08 to .14 in lieu of a 10-day vehicle impoundment. The state imposes stiff penalties on party hosts that allow persons to drink at their gatherings. It also requires testing for all survivors in serious alcohol-related car crashes. There are strict DUI felony laws and child-endangerment laws to deter irresponsible drinking. It appears, however, that these laws aren’t always enough. What then, can be done to further insulate Florida’s population from the ongoing threat of alcoholism and its subsequent impact on individuals, families and communities?
Awareness Begins at Home
Before someone gets behind the wheel of the car while drunk or sustains irreversible liver damage due to alcohol addiction, there is almost always a series of cumulative factors that lead to this pivotal and destructive moment. As the families, neighbors, teachers and friends of those vulnerable to alcoholism, we can significantly impact the trajectory of the progression of their drinking. Further community engagement, such as awareness events and school programs, may be one way to affect change. Another is through diligent monitoring on an individual basis and frank and honest conversation in the event that a problem is identified. We don’t have to, nor should we, leave it all up to the police and the court system.