Does it seem like every month of the year is dedicated to awareness to some cause? That’s probably because it’s pretty much true. While this may seem like an obvious deduction, there is a reason for this – It helps! It works! It’s another chance to make a difference in your life or the life of a loved one! And this month we dedicate our focus to alcohol awareness and the encouragement to others to focus on the prevention, intervention, treatment and recovery of alcohol-related problems.
What is Alcohol Awareness Month?
Beginning April 1987 and each month of April thereafter, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) sponsors Alcohol Awareness Month to increase awareness and understanding to those who struggle with alcoholism. It is also about reducing the stigma and negativity surrounded around being called an alcoholic (because let’s face it, it hurts, especially when the name caller doesn’t even begin to understand what the struggle actually is like) and doing so by encouraging local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. This April, NCADD highlights the important public health issue of underage drinking, a problem with devastating individual, family, and community consequences.
Whether you’re currently struggling with an alcohol use disorder, newly sober, a friend or family member of an individual struggling with alcohol use disorder, or just want to do what you can to raise awareness, what better time to start than right now. While some of us may be aware that drinking too much increases risks of injuries, violence, diseases and some types of cancer, others may not be as informed and may not be aware of all of the vast resources out there to help aid in treatment recovery. Get involved. Get educated. After all, whether you realize it or not, the risks associated with consuming too much alcohol directly impacts individuals as well as local communities.
How much do you know about alcohol misuse? Are you wondering if you have a problem with alcohol or are worried about how a family member, friend or co-worker might be abusing alcohol? To raise awareness about the dangers of alcohol, let’s use this month as a platform to get educated and share the facts.
Facts and Figures
In an effort to highlight the importance of bringing awareness to the dangers of alcohol, it is necessary that we fully understand just how important it is to start getting involved and look at the facts. Get the answers to some of the questions you may have been asking but are afraid to ask.
- How many people use alcohol in the United States? The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) reports that according to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), the prevalence of drinking in the United States was 86 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 70 percent reported that they drank in the past year; and 56 percent reported that they drank in the past month. Based on these numbers it is safe to say the overall use of alcohol across the country is very high. Since such a great number of us have reported that we engage in the use and consumption of alcohol it should be our duty to get involved.
- How about the numbers related to Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD) in the United States? According to the same study, 15.1 million adults ages 18 and older had AUD (9.8 million of which were men and 5.3 million were women). Only about 1.3 million adults received treatment for AUD at a specialized facility in 2015 (898,000 of which were men and 417,000 were women) – only 1.3 million of the 15.1 million?? This means only about 8.3% of adults with AUD sought treatment. These numbers alone highlight the need for awareness.
- Let’s not forget about the youth population. If you haven’t realized yet, these numbers clearly indicate there is a need to educate our youth in alcohol awareness. According to the 2015 NSDUH study, youths ages 12 to 17, an estimated 623,000 adolescents ages had AUD (298,000 of which were males and were 325,000 female).
Nearly 90,000 people die every year from alcohol-related deaths. These numbers may seem shocking but using Alcohol Awareness month to bring attention to this may just save a life (or lives!!) – and it will absolutely cause those who listen to analyze their own drinking habits and hopefully seek help.
Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)
Alcohol Use Disorder is generally defined as “a pattern of alcohol use that involves problems controlling your drinking, being preoccupied with alcohol, continuing to use alcohol even when it causes problems, having to drink more to get the same effect, or having withdrawal symptoms when you rapidly decrease or stop drinking.” AUD is a medical diagnosis which is given to individuals when problem drinking becomes severe – in other words individuals diagnosed with an AUD must meet certain criteria which is outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (more specifically, anyone meeting just two of the 11 criteria in a period of one year receives a diagnosis of AUD. Does this have your inner wheels spinning? What are the criteria? Does this concern you? It should. Below is a chart of the current diagnostic criteria.
The importance of education related to alcohol is beyond words as it truly affects all of us whether we are aware of it or not.
Common Signs and Symptoms
As the above numbers indicate alcohol abuse can lead to a number of negative events that can alter, or even end, the life of you or someone you love. It is a pattern of drinking that often results in harm to an individual’s health (including long-term life threatening illnesses), interpersonal relationships, ability to work and more. If you are concerned about your own drinking or that of someone you love, below are some of the common signs and symptoms of alcohol abuse:
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home due to repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social or interpersonal problems
- Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
- Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms
Do any of the above symptoms apply to you? Have you or someone you love neglected children, performed poorly at work, received poor or failing grades in school, or skipped out on work, school, personal or social commitments because of alcohol use? What about finding yourself in a dangerous situation due to alcohol use? The use of alcohol in situations such as drinking and driving, drinking in a bad neighborhood, mixing alcohol with prescription medication against the advice of your doctor or operating machinery while drinking. How about legal problems due to drinking? The point is we must continue to be aware of and spread awareness of the ways alcohol affects our lives and stay informed as it may be the difference between life and death for you or someone you love.
Are Alcoholism and Alcohol Use Disorder Different?
The current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has combined alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, into one disorder called alcohol use disorder (defined above). The diagnosis of AUD is based on certain levels which include mild, moderate, and severe sub-classifications. Not all individuals diagnosed with AUD (previously referred to as alcohol abusers or alcohol dependence) develop alcoholism; however AUD includes a level that’s sometimes called alcoholism which is considered severe at times. Sometimes alcoholism develops in response to a genetic predisposition from a family history of alcoholism or due to a stressful change, such as a breakup, retirement, or another loss. Alcoholism may also gradually develop as your tolerance to alcohol increases. If an individual is a binge drinker (dinking in a large amount of alcohol at one time) or drinks every day, the risks of developing alcoholism are even greater. Alcoholism involves all the symptoms of AUD, but also involves other factors such as physical dependence- tolerance and withdrawal. Know the symptoms:
- Tolerance: An individual can develop a tolerance to alcohol which means that, over time, you need more alcohol to feel the same effect. Does this apply to you? Do you drink more than you used to? Do you drink more than other people without showing obvious signs of intoxication?
- Loss of Control and Desire to Stop: While this may be self-explanatory, have you found that you are drinking more than you wanted to, for longer than you intended, and despite telling yourself that you wouldn’t do it this time feel like you have no control? If you are unable to stop drinking, although you have a persistent desire to cut down or stop your alcohol use, but all efforts to stop and to continue recovering, have been unsuccessful, it may be time to seek help.
- Neglecting Other Activities: Have you noticed that because of the use of alcohol, you have begun spending less time on activities that used to be important to you? Stopped hanging out with family and friends – even pursuing your hobbies, exercise or other interests? Alcoholism can in a way make you stop living your life. Don’t let it take over any longer.
- Alcohol Takes Up Greater Time, Energy and Focus: Do you spend a lot of time drinking, thinking about it, or recovering from hangovers or other effects of alcohol? Maybe you have fewer interests or social events and those that you have only revolve around the use of alcohol. Pay attention to your body and mind.
- Continued Use Despite Negative Consequences: While all of these items are notable this one may be what will finally make you stop. As you may know, while under the influence of alcohol you are functioning with impaired judgement. This means you’re at risk of making poor choices that result in negative consequences.
Do you drink even though they know it’s causing problems? If you realize that your alcohol use is interfering with your ability to do your job, damaging other aspects of your life and the lives of the ones you love, or causing health problems, but you just continue to drink, it might be time before you do something you can’t take back – like killing yourself or someone else for that matter – to get help and make the choice to stop.
- Withdrawal: As the effect of the alcohol wears off you may experience withdrawal These symptoms include anxiety or jumpiness; shakiness or trembling; sweating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, depression, irritability, fatigue or loss of appetite and headaches. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be severe and life threatening. Drinking to relieve withdrawal symptoms is not only a sign of alcoholism and addiction but should be a cry for help.
If you are concerned about the role alcohol plays in your life or the life of someone you love, the NCADD offers a simple self-test intended to help you determine if you or someone you know needs to find out more about alcoholism. To take the self-test click here.
How to Help Spread Alcohol Awareness and Make a Difference
At the very least, during the month of April help spread alcohol awareness. Remember even when we think we are alone there is always someone there to help – let’s be there to help or get the help we need. For additional information and ideas about ways to help please take the time to look at the April 2017 Toolkit – Alcohol Awareness Month provided by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is never too late to make the healthy choice and always know you are not alone. Have a voice. Save a life.