Many people consider alcohol consumption a normal part of life.
However, each year, about 95,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes, including liver disease, drunk-driving accidents, and alcohol poisoning. These issues often stem from alcohol abuse and alcohol use disorder (also called alcoholism).
Every April, people across the country highlight the dangers of alcohol misuse by participating in Alcohol Awareness Month.
This public health program encourages organizations, communities, and individuals to increase awareness of alcohol-related problems and help people get the treatment they need.
The History Of Alcohol Awareness Month
The first Alcohol Awareness Month occurred in April 1987, sponsored by The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).
NCADD aims to educate the public on alcohol-related problems and connect people with helpful resources. It was founded in 1941 by Marty Mann, an early member of the popular support group Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and the first woman member to achieve long-term sobriety.
In its first year, Alcohol Awareness Month focused on teaching college students to drink responsibly. Over time, the program expanded both its audience and purpose.
The Purpose Of Alcohol Awareness Month
Alcohol Awareness Month seeks to:
- educate the public about alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and other alcohol-related problems
- reduce the stigma associated with alcohol-related problems
- help people find treatment for alcohol-related problems
During the month of April, you can support these goals by talking to friends and family members, sharing information on traditional and social media (using the hashtag #AlcoholAwarenessMonth), and hosting educational events.
How To Educate The Public About Alcohol-Related Problems
Many people don’t even realize that they or their loved ones suffer from alcohol abuse or alcoholism. They then miss out on potentially life-saving treatments.
That’s why it’s so important to give people clear definitions of alcohol abuse and alcoholism and explain their effects.
There are two main types of alcohol abuse: binge drinking and heavy alcohol use. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines binge drinking as having 4 or more drinks in about 2 hours for women and having 5 or more drinks in about 2 hours for men.
NIAAA defines heavy alcohol use as having more than 3 drinks in one day for women and having more than 4 drinks in one day for men. A “drink” is a beverage that contains about 14 grams of pure alcohol.
Binge drinking and heavy alcohol use don’t always lead to alcoholism. However, they increase your risk of developing it.
Alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder (AUD), is a disease that makes you feel unable to control your alcohol use. Symptoms include:
- intense cravings for alcohol
- inability to stop using alcohol despite negative consequences, such as damaged relationships or poor work performance
- tolerance (needing increasingly larger or more frequent drinks to feel the desired effects)
- physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal symptoms like anxiety, depression, sweating, or shaking when you don’t drink)
In 2019, about 14.5 million Americans experienced alcoholism.
Effects Of Alcohol Abuse & Alcoholism
Because alcohol impairs your judgment, both alcohol abuse and alcoholism increase your risk of:
- injuries, including falls, burns, drownings, and motor vehicle crashes
- violence, including sexual assault, intimate partner violence, homicide, and suicide
- risky sexual behaviors (such as unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners) that lead to sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancies
In addition, if you drink too much alcohol at once, you may experience alcohol poisoning. This life-threatening condition causes symptoms like confusion, slow or irregular breathing, vomiting, pale or bluish skin, low body temperature, seizures, and loss of consciousness.
Continued alcohol abuse can also lead to serious health problems like stroke, liver disease, heart disease, depression, dementia, and certain cancers. It may also contribute to damaged relationships, financial problems, unemployment, and homelessness.
How To Reduce The Stigma Associated With Alcohol-Related Problems
Many people struggling with alcohol abuse or alcoholism face judgment and discrimination, also known as stigma. For example, they may be viewed as weak, untrustworthy, lazy, or dangerous.
Similarly, some people see alcohol use disorder as a moral failure. In reality, it’s a progressive disease that can change your brain function and hinder your ability to control your behavior.
When people feel stigmatized, they’re less likely to seek treatment or even admit they struggle with alcohol. Instead, they stay quiet to avoid judgment.
During Alcohol Awareness Month (and the rest of the year), you can help fight stigma by speaking up when you witness discrimination. For instance, correct people who describe alcohol use disorder as anything other than a disease.
In addition, discuss how words like “addict,” “alcoholic,” and “drunk” reduce people to their alcohol problems. Remind others to use person-first language, such as “person with alcohol use disorder” or “person who misuses alcohol” (unless the person you’re describing requests otherwise).
This neutral language acknowledges a person’s alcohol problem without judgement or blame.
You can also decrease the shame surrounding alcohol misuse by talking openly about your own experiences with substance abuse, if you have any.
How To Help People Find Treatment For Alcohol-Related Problems
Even if someone knows how to identify alcohol misuse and fight stigma, they might not know where to find treatment. When talking or posting about Alcohol Awareness Month, include information about treatment options.
For example, you can highlight local addiction treatment centers or share the link to NIAAA’s Alcohol Treatment Navigator. This free service helps people find medical providers and treatment programs that meet their specific needs.
Also, provide contact information for local support groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), SMART Recovery, and Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS). You can also mention support groups for loved ones of people who misuse alcohol, including Al-Anon and Alateen.
Every Alcohol Awareness Month kicks off with Alcohol-Free Weekend. Held the first weekend of April, this event encourages everyone to give up alcohol for three days.
If you can’t go three days without drinking or find it extremely challenging, contact a local support group or treatment center.
To learn more about treatment options for alcohol abuse and alcoholism, please reach out to a recovery specialist today.