April is National Alcohol Awareness Month. This month is a good time to remind ourselves that alcohol abuse and binge drinking are serious public health issues.

Alcohol is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Each year, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes and in 2014 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 31 percent of overall driving fatalities.

Nearly 15 million people ages 12 and older have an alcohol use disorder. More than a quarter of Americans report that they binge drink regularly and 6.6 percent engage in heavy alcohol use (binge drinking on five or more days in the past month.) Approximately, 40 percent of adults report drinking more than the low-risk guidelines recommended by NIAAA.

NIAAA and other organizations that partner for Alcohol Awareness Month overwhelmingly agree that early intervention is key to the prevention of alcohol misuse and abuse later in life.

Alcohol Abuse and Attachment

Mental health professionals treating young people with compromised attachment as well as their parents and caregivers, need to be aware of the link between attachment disorders and substance use disorders. According to an article on Frontiers in Psychiatry that insecure attachment is a risk factor for substance use disorder (SUD).

“It is seen as an important risk factor not only for SUD, but also for mental disorders in general. With increasing insecurity, individuals will face more difficulties in regulating emotions and stress….Psychotropic substances then might become attractive as one way to ‘self-medicate’ attachment needs, to regulate emotions, to cope with stress, and to replace relationships.”

Moreover, long-term substance abuse is likely to further exacerbate attachment problems because it impairs the ability to form and maintain relationships. The risk is higher for adolescents who are insecurely attached than adults.

The authors contend that, with more research in this area, “Attachment theory might contribute to the understanding and treatment of SUDs in a significant way.”

The research confirms what we already know: Treating and healing attachment issues early in life, can prevent more severe issues in adulthood – including the need to turn to alcohol and other substances to cope.

If you know of anyone struggling with alcohol, SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) or TTY: 1-800-487-4889 is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service, in English and Spanish, for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. This service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.