April is Alcohol Awareness Month

Alcohol Awareness Month is a public health program organized by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence as a way of increasing outreach and education regarding the dangers of alcoholism and issues related to alcohol. The program was started in April 1987 with the intention of targeting college-aged students who might be drinking too much as part of their newfound freedom. It has since become a national movement to draw more attention to the causes and effects of alcoholism as well as how to help families and communities deal with drinking problems.

The Importance of Alcohol Awareness Month

A big part of the work of Alcohol Awareness Month is to point out the stigma that still surrounds alcoholism and substance abuse in general. Psych Central points out that denial is a major characteristic of alcohol abuse, both from the person currently experiencing it and from friends and family members who are uncomfortable acknowledging the gravity of the situation. The month of April provides a chance for public health bodies, community centers, and treatment facilities to increase their efforts to reach people who may not fully appreciate the dangers of unhealthy alcohol consumption.

These organizations, many of which are part of NCADD’s National Network of Affiliates, launch campaigns on social and traditional media during the month of April to draw attention to the causes of alcoholism, the signs and effects of the condition, how to talk to a loved one about a drinking problem, and how to find treatment options. These campaigns can include advertising, especially in areas that are prone to abusive alcohol consumption like college campuses, where the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that 37.9 percent of students engage in binge drinking; public talks; content on television, radio, social media or print media; and other events to get the word out.

Signs of an Alcohol Problem

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that doctors diagnose when a patient’s drinking causes distress or harm. The condition can range from mild to severe and is diagnosed when a patient answers “yes” to two or more of the following questions.

In the past year, have you:

  • Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
  • More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
  • Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
  • Experienced craving — a strong need, or urge, to drink?
  • Found that drinking — or being sick from drinking — often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
  • Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
  • Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
  • More than once gotten into situations while or after drinking that increased your chances of getting hurt (such as driving, swimming, using machinery, walking in a dangerous area, or having unsafe sex)?
  • Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
  • Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
  • Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not there?

If you have any of these symptoms, your drinking may already be a cause for concern. The more symptoms you have, the more urgent the need for change. A health professional can conduct a formal assessment of your symptoms to see if an alcohol use disorder is present. For an online assessment of your drinking pattern, go to RethinkingDrinking.niaaa.nih.gov.

Creative Prevention Strategies

For Alcohol Awareness Month in 2017, Frances M. Harding, the Director of the Center for Substance Abuse Prevention at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, singled out the alarming rates of alcohol consumption in colleges and universities as an example of why Alcohol Awareness Month is important. Almost 60 percent of students, some as young as 18, drink alcohol in any given month. Binge drinking is often thought of as a rite of passage, and many fraternities and sororities use alcohol in hazing rituals that often turn deadly. College administrations and state governments are turning to “creative prevention strategies” to address the epidemic, and Alcohol Awareness Month gives them the platform to spread the message.

The danger of alcohol abuse goes beyond college kids getting too drunk at parties. Every year, 6,500 people aged 21 and under die from alcohol-related accidents, some of whom were not even drinking themselves. Alcohol use by people who do not know how to drink responsibly or are unaware of the risks contributes to higher rates of violence, sexual assault, and suicide.

Going after drunk drivers and other people who cause a public safety risk through their drinking costs the government as much as $114 billion every year, according to NCADD. The human cost of alcoholism is much higher. Programs like Alcohol Awareness Month exist to ensure that families and communities have the resources, information, and options available to control the crisis of alcoholism.