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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Alcohol Awareness Month


A personal reflection on the impact of substance abuse disorder

As the executive director of the Louisiana Addiction Research Center (LARC) at LSU Health Shreveport, I am daily pursuing a greater understanding of the neurobiological and physiological mechanisms underlying the effects of addictive substances to develop more effective and efficient treatments for people with substance use disorders (SUDs).

My research career spans more than 40 years, with a focus on cocaine during the ’80s and ’90s, shifting more to methamphetamine starting in the new millennium. When I look back, it is clear why I decided to devote my life to the study of substance abuse disorders. What is not clear is why I did not make alcohol abuse the focus of my research, as I know more about alcohol than any other drug.

I was adopted as a newborn, and I will always be grateful to my birth mother for that gift. My adoptive parents always told me that they chose me, which initially made me feel so special. However, as I got older, I realized that I was part of a dysfunctional family. Looking back, the signs were there, but I did not know any better at the time, as I thought that everyone lived the way that I did. I did not realize that having the responsibility at 5 or 6 years of age to answer the door in a coat and tie with my hair slicked back for parties my parents hosted was abnormal.

People would remark about how cute this young man looked, and everyone would be drinking and having a wonderful time which seemed like a good thing at that age. As I later reflected, the drinking of alcohol in excess in my home was not just during parties but a daily occurrence for my parents — no party was necessary.

As I got older and the drinking intensified (or maybe I finally understood what was going on), the fighting became worse. Some nights when I was in my bedroom trying to study or even sleeping, the fights would become violent and spill into my room, putting me in the middle of my parents. When that occurred, my mother would pack us up to stay overnight at a motel down the road. Other nights, Mother would make me lock all the doors and forbid me to unlock them for my dad no matter how loudly he called for me.

As a child I was also expected to call the bar my dad frequented, almost nightly, to ask the bartender for my father so that I could ask him to come home for dinner. I cannot tell you my last phone number, but I will never forget the number of that bar: 424-1544.

You might be asking yourself, why is he telling us so much about his personal history? Well, you see, through the years of investigating cocaine and methamphetamine, one of my biggest concerns has been for the children of parents who use these drugs. I have read stories about how they are neglected, abused and worse, and my heart goes out to every one of them. For a reason I cannot articulate, this April designated as has caused me to reflect on my own life, having a “light bulb” moment of the significant impact to children of those who abuse alcohol.

When I checked the numbers on alcohol use, the statistics were extremely alarming. The opioid overdose epidemic made headlines across the United States when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that over 75% of the nearly 107,000 drug overdose deaths in 2021 involved an opioid.

But digging deeper I found that the CDC also reported that the average annual number of U.S. deaths from excessive alcohol use increased from approximately 138,000 to 178,000 per year from 2016–2017 to 2020–2021. This increase translates to an average of approximately 488 deaths each day from excessive drinking during 2020–2021. According to these data, more people died from excessive alcohol use than from the opioid overdose crisis in 2021.

But where is the public outcry regarding alcohol? Is this because, as opined by Cara Poland, MD, in the Association of American Medical Colleges “Viewpoints” on March 20 of this year, “Part of the problem is that alcohol permeates people’s everyday lives, appearing everywhere from joyous celebrations to moments of grief, thus obscuring its possible dangers. Alcohol use disorder (AUD), like illegal drug use, carries a terrible stigma, which prevents people from seeking treatment.” However, there is good news as no matter how severe the problem may seem, evidence-based treatment with behavioral therapies, mutual-support groups, and/or medications can help people with AUD achieve and maintain recovery.

What happened to me and all those reared in a home with alcohol abuse continues to impact us to this day. For me, this is proven by the fact that I still remember the number of the bar my Dad frequented and I never get excited when something is promised to me as my parents made so many promises while intoxicated that they never kept.

I hope for anyone reading this article who is adversely impacting their children due to alcohol abuse disorder that you recognize that you are not alone, as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that there were 29.5 million people over the age of 12 who had AUD in 2022. That statistic represents a significant number of families but does not include those people who do not consistently abuse alcohol, such as “weekend warriors.” My prayer and plea during Alcohol Awareness Month is that we not only remember people struggling with alcohol abuse disorder but encourage them to get help – not in judgment but in love.

As the executive director of the LSUHS Louisiana Addiction Research Center and a board member of the Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse of North Louisiana, I know firsthand that there are resources available if you or someone you know struggles with substance abuse disorder. It only takes a few moments to visit https://www.cadanwla.org/ to find local help with treatment, peer support or crisis response services.

To learn more about research on substance abuse disorders at the Louisiana Addiction Research Center, visit www.lsuhs.edu/larc. For resources on childhood trauma and resilience, visit LSU Health Shreveport’s Institute for Childhood Resilience at www.lsuhs.edu/icr. There is hope for those affected by SUDs, and there are resources right here in our Shreveport-Bossier Community.

Nicholas Goeders, PhD, is the executive director of the Louisiana Addiction Research Center and chair and professor of the Department of Pharmacology, Toxicology & Neuroscience at LSU Health Shreveport.


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