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Commentary: The Crucial Role of Alcohol Awareness Month

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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.

7 Responses to this article

  1. Terry Flores / July 1, 2014 at 2:34 am

    My 34 year old daughter died June 6th 2014 from liver failure and alcoholic hepatitis. She was the sunshine in my life and something happened and she decided to use Vodka as a drug of choice to help her with pain control. I watched powerless as my beautiful daughter changed and could do nothing to stop her. She knew exactly what she was doing. Not only was she addicted to Vodka but she was addicted to water as well. She checked herself in the hospital on May 19th to go through detox and it killed her. My life is in shambles and I miss my baby girl more than words can say but I have to help so this doesn’t happen to someone else. I need to know what to do and where to start. This is for my Christina! Will you help me?

  2. Shaun Campbell / April 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm

    As to self-help options to support recovery from alcohol abuse and addiction, I share with people that there are options beyond Alcoholics Anonymous: SMART Recovery, Secular Organizations For Sobriety, and Women for Sobriety provide abstinence-oriented options, while Moderation Management is available to those who assess their problems with alcohol to be less severe. We need to support multiple paths to recovery, as choice is a key motivation in successful management of alcoholism as a disorder.

  3. Shaun Campbell / April 13, 2012 at 1:43 pm

    It seems that I am forever embroiled in debates with folks over whether an addiction to a drug like alcohol is a “disease” or just a harmful “very, very bad habit.” Of course, by training and indoctrination, I take addictions to alcohol and other drugs to be bona fide diseases (or at least, “disorders.”). Could the authors or others here distinguish between the nosology of “syndromes,” “disorders,” and “diseases” and explain why “alcoholism” is more than a self-destructive bad habit?

  4. Avatar of Face IT TOGETHER
    Face IT TOGETHER / April 11, 2012 at 10:36 am

    Thanks so much for this! Great use of language. Addiction is a disease and we must recognize that and support those who suffer so they too, can become survivors. Great reminder!

  5. Lisa Frederiksen - BreakingTheCycles.com / April 10, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    This is a wonderful commentary, and I wholeheartedly agree with the comments. In my work with family members on both “sides” of the issue — alcohol misuse or the person trying to cope with the drinking behaviors it causes — understanding the science makes a world of difference. This latest eBook, “Crossing The Line From Alcohol Use to Abuse to Dependence,” simplifies the brain and addiction-related research to debunk the common myths about drinking that can cause a person to cross the line and/or tolerate the drinking behaviors that result. The science of why addiction is a brain disease, why alcohol abuse causes chemical and structural changes in the brain, why relapse is common, why continuing care is crucial to effective, long-term treatment, why addiction cravings can be more powerful than our instinctual cravings for food, why some people become alcoholics and others stay in alcohol abuse… can make all the difference for those whose lives are changed when a loved one drinks too much. It can help them make different decisions to move forward, to heal the brain.

  6. Steve Castleman / April 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm

    Science-based alcohol and drug awareness programs fight stigma, promote treatment and saves lives. I know, because that was my experience. It wasn’t until I was introduced to the science of addiction that I accepted that my alcoholism was a biological brain disease, not a moral failing or personality defect. That, in turn, alleviated the guilt and shame I felt over having lost control over my drinking, setting the stage for long-term sobriety.

    It’s not enough just to assert that addiction is a disease, however. People need to be convinced that it’s is a disease to reconsider their preconceived notions about what addiction is and isn’t. I sure did. They need to know, for example that neuroscientists can explain why “the craving a person with alcoholism feels for alcohol can be as strong as the need for food or water.”

    For a not-for-profit website that discusses the science of addiction (what makes it a disease; what parts of the brain malfunction; why that malfunction results in addict behaviors; why it’s progressive; why it’s relapse is common; why some get addicted while others don’t; how treatment works; etc.)

  7. Luis Lozano / April 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Thanks for the commentary. I would also like to add that recovery is a very crucial component to this awareness campaign. People seem to be getting more and better information about this disease and its’ treatment. However, at the same time cities and municipalities are making it harder to open up centers for treatment and burdening them with over regulation and zoning restrictions. The stigma of alcoholism and addiction still exists even for those in recovery.

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