For 25 years, April has been recognized as Alcohol Awareness Month. So how does this campaign continue to be of value after all of these years?
Alcohol misuse and abuse still have a tremendous impact on our country today. As prom and graduation season are beginning to unfold, April is also a key month in which to highlight the dangers of underage drinking, as well as increase public awareness and understanding about alcohol.
Consider these facts:
• In 2010, more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes – one every 51 minutes (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2012).
• Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America’s young people, more than tobacco or illicit drugs, and underage alcohol use alone costs the nation an estimated $62 billion annually (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc., 2012).
• More than 14 million people in this country are currently living with what can be defined as an addiction to alcohol.
• Each year, more than 100,000 people die as a result of alcohol-related issues.
• Every year, more than 13,000 people die as a result of liver disease related to alcoholism (rehabinfo, 2012).
As indicated by these statistics, alcohol is still creating a widespread problem of serious personal, physical, social and economic consequences. Yet, at the same time, there are many misconceptions about alcohol use, abuse and alcoholism today. One common misconception is that alcoholics lack willpower, and they could quit if they really wanted to stop drinking. This statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Unfortunately, misinformation, as well as stigma, is often perpetuated through peers, media, family and individual experimentation.
What is important to know and be aware of is that changes occur within the mind and body when alcohol is consumed, regardless of the amount. Therefore, even when drinking in moderation, there can be subsequent consequences (National Institutes of Health). Even small amounts of alcohol consumed during pregnancy or combined with certain medications may result in significant adverse consequences and therefore is considered risky drinking (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2003).
Then consider this:
• The American Medical Association declared alcoholism as an illness in 1956 (American Medical Association, 2012).
• Alcoholism, also known as alcohol dependence, is a disease which includes the following four symptoms:
Craving—A strong need or urge to drink
Loss of control—Unable to stop drinking once drinking has begun
Physical dependence—Withdrawal symptoms, such as nausea, sweating, shakiness, and anxiety after stopping drinking
Tolerance—The need to drink greater amounts of alcohol to get “high”
• For clinical and research purposes, formal diagnostic criteria for alcoholism have also been developed. Such criteria are included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, published by the American Psychiatric Association, as well as in the International Classification Diseases, published by the World Health Organization (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 1995).
• The craving a person with alcoholism feels for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water. A person addicted to alcohol will continue to drink despite serious family, health or legal problems. Like many other diseases, alcoholism is chronic, meaning it lasts a person’s lifetime, usually follows a predictable course and has symptoms. The risk for developing alcoholism is influenced both by a person’s genes and by his or her lifestyle (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2012).
• Alcoholism can be treated. Alcoholism treatment programs use both counseling and medications to help a person stop drinking. Treatment has helped many people stop drinking and rebuild their lives (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2012).
Sadly, there are some who perpetuate the belief that alcoholism is not a disease and pure speculation. (Baldwin Research Institute, 2010).
The disease of alcoholism and the consequences of alcohol abuse can be deadly. Alcohol Awareness Month provides a focused opportunity to increase awareness and understanding of alcoholism, its causes, effective treatment and recovery. It is an opportunity to decrease stigma and misunderstandings in order to dismantle the barriers to treatment and recovery, and thus, make seeking help more readily available to those who suffer from this disease. This is the value of Alcohol Awareness Month.
The authors of this commentary are Deann Jepson, MS of the ATTC National Office and Jan Wrolstad, M. Div., of the Mid-America ATTC.
To advance public health and wellness, SAMHSA’s Addiction Technology Transfer Center (ATTC) Network accelerates lasting change in behavioral health care systems by translating, disseminating and promoting the adoption and implementation of effective and culturally sensitive clinical practices.
Mid-America ATTC serves Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Arkansas.