Spreading Knowledge About the Most Abused Substance
Every April since 1987, the National Council for Alcohol and Drug Dependence has set aside a month to focus on spreading awareness about alcohol, alcohol use disorder and problematic drinking. Alcohol Awareness Month is an opportunity for community groups to spread the word about this substance, whose widespread social acceptance belies its capacity to cause harm if used unsafely. Organizations who are interested in holding events can request resources to help them share this important message and organize events to get people talking about the importance of safe drinking practices and the harms of overconsumption.
The History of the NCADD and Alcohol Awareness Month
2022 marks the first year that SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has taken the reins of Alcohol Awareness Month, following 34 years of stewardship by the National Council for Alcohol and Drug Dependence. The NCADD, as with many recovery-centered organizations, has its roots in Alcoholics Anonymous. It is an advocacy organization that was originally founded by Marty Mann, who is reputed to be the first woman to achieve long-term sobriety through AA. Ms. Mann formed what was originally the National Committee for Education on Alcoholism in 1944, and it developed into one of the most robust groups advocating for awareness of alcohol use disorder as a public health issue. The message that Ms. Mann and her organization hoped to spread had 3 central tenets: First, that alcoholism is a disease and the alcoholic a sick person; second, that the alcoholic can be helped and is worth helping; and third, that alcohol use disorder is a public health problem and therefore a public responsibility.
Although Ms. Mann passed away in 1980, her organization continued on strong. Among its accomplishments were successfully defining alcohol use disorder as a disease and having it adopted as such by the American Medical Association, which paved the way for life-saving treatments for the disorder. NCADD also advocated for alcohol use disorder to be covered by health insurance so that more people could afford to seek treatment, and created the first Employee Assistance Program, a now widespread way of helping employees suffering from addiction. And in 1987, they established Alcohol Awareness Month to spread awareness about binge drinking and alcohol use disorder. Since that time, hundreds of events and campaigns have been held by NCADD affiliates to mark the occasion.
Why Alcohol Awareness is Important
Alcohol is the most used and abused substance in the United States by far. Its legality in the vast majority of the country, and the ease of procuring it for people who are under 21 and technically not allowed to drink, has led to widespread acceptance of binge drinking and frequent alcohol consumption, particularly among young people. One of the major goals of Alcohol Awareness Month is to reach youths who may not understand how much damage they could cause by drinking to excess.
Teen alcohol use kills 4,700 people yearly-more than all illegal drugs combined. Among high school seniors, who are legally too young to drink, 55.3% report using alcohol in the past year. And almost 26% of people 18 or older report that they engaged in binge drinking in the past month. Colleges frequently have a culture that encourages and valorizes alcohol overconsumption. As a result, college students are particularly prone to binge drinking, but many may not recognize that what they are doing qualifies as binge drinking. The threshold is lower than you may think: 5 drinks in a row for men, or 4 drinks in a row for women. Any amount higher than that qualifies as binge drinking, and comes with the accompanying health risks. Binge drinkers face higher rates of high blood pressure, heart attack, inflammation of the stomach lining, and other medical issues. They also have substantially higher chances of engaging in unsafe sex, leading to potential unwanted pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.
Binge drinking also puts you at risk for alcohol poisoning, a condition where heavy intoxication from alcohol slows your breathing and heart rate and affects your gag reflex. Anyone who drinks should be aware of the signs of alcohol poisoning: seizure, vomiting, confusion, unconsciousness, pale skin, and a slow breathing rate. Call 911 if someone is exhibiting these symptoms-you may just save their life. Those 4,700 teen deaths are just a fraction of the 95,000 deaths caused by alcohol yearly.
How To Recognize Alcohol Awareness Month
If you feel that your community could use some education on the importance of moderation when consuming alcohol, there are a couple ways you can use Alcohol Awareness Month to spread that knowledge:
Have an Alcohol-Free Weekend: One way that many groups and individuals honor Alcohol Awareness Month is to spend a weekend during April alcohol-free, abstaining completely from Friday through Monday. People participating pledge to remain dry for the weekend and invite others to take the pledge as well. Although many people will be able to easily pass this challenge, others may notice they have difficulty controlling their urge to drink, and may even experience physical withdrawal symptoms, like sweating, nausea, or difficulty sleeping. This might be a wake-up call to seek help for alcohol use disorder.
Host an Alcohol Awareness Fair: Throw an event to share knowledge about alcohol use disorder and binge drinking. You can invite community organizations with an interest in public health to table and give their own perspectives on how binge drinking and alcohol use disorder are impacting the community, and invite speakers who can give their own personal narratives about the dangers of overconsumption.
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