Alcohol Awareness Month: Facing the Facts and Finding Hope
The Importance of Alcohol Awareness Month
With the dawning of spring, April’s Alcohol Awareness Month presents an opportunity for a new beginning in sober living.
Launched by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCAAD) in April 1987 to educate college students about the dangers of drinking, Alcohol Awareness Month has since become a national movement to raise awareness about the nature and treatment of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD).
In coordination with a number of community groups, public health services and treatment facilities around the country, the NCADD seeks to defuse stigma, disarm denial and encourage education.
As far as stigma goes, a persistent problem is viewing alcoholism as a moral failing as opposed to an expression of the underlying disease of addiction. While there is greater social acceptance toward the abuse of alcohol compared to that of illegal drugs, stigma still centers on the misconception that alcoholism is a failure of will, a matter of choice, rather than a mental illness underpinned by mechanisms outside of voluntary control. The destigmatizing efforts of Alcohol Awareness Month helps counteract this damaging view.
Identifying denial is another major aim of Alcohol Awareness Month. Denial is a psychological defense mechanism, whereby an individual refuses to recognize a difficult reality. This is a familiar feature of alcoholism as it is of addiction generally, and can prove to be an obstacle to change for both those in the grip of an alcohol use disorder and their loved ones. The campaigns of Alcohol Awareness Month help offset denial by highlighting common indications of it, such as concealment, defensiveness and rationalization, as well as the ways loved ones can unknowingly aid denial through behaviors like enabling.
Facts about Alcohol Abuse in the United States
The focus on stigma and denial are part of a general education campaign during Alcohol Awareness Month to broadcast the most distressing realities of AUD. Indeed, confronting the major facts and statistics pertaining to alcohol use in the United States is sobering in itself.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, analyzing trends from 2019, nearly 26% of people ages 18 and older reported binge drinking in the past month. Among American youth, nearly 15 million people ages 12 and older suffered from AUD, with approximately 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17 (1.7 percent of the entire age group) beset by AUD. Conversely, around 10.5% of children in the U.S. ages 17 and younger live with a parent suffering from AUD.
In the realm of emergencies and deaths, recent years have seen a considerable rise in alcohol-related emergency department (ED) visits, increasing 47% between 2006 and 2014. Among ED visits overall, 18.5% percent of them are due to alcohol. Moreover, 22.1% of overdose deaths involving prescription opioids themselves have alcohol has a contributing factor.
Overall, alcohol ranks as the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States, behind tobacco (first) and obesity (second), with approximately 95,000 deaths annually. Of these, 10,265 result from alcohol-related driving fatalities.
Zeroing in on the toll AUD takes on the human body, the data points are also devastating. In 2019, 43.1% of all liver disease deaths were related to alcohol consumption, as were nearly half of all cirrhosis deaths and one in three liver transplants.
Apart from liver disease, medical research has demonstrated clear links between excessive drinking and heart disease, stroke, stomach bleeding, a variety of cancers (oral cavity, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum), diabetes and high blood pressure. There are also psychological and behavioral issues, including increased onsets of depression, sleep disorders and engagement in high-risk sexual activity.
Even moderate drinking (considered one drink for women per day and two for men) creates a non-negligible risk of drowning, violent injury, slips and driving accidents.
In all, alcohol presents a range of risks and disorders—both widespread without being widely understood—demanding greater attention.
Additional Educational Resources for Alcohol Use Disorder
Before considering treatment options, those seeking additional information could consult the RCA e-book: A Loved One’s Guide to Alcohol Addiction and Recovery and take the Alcohol Addiction Quiz to learn how to identify warning signs and symptoms of AUD, see where a loved one falls on the spectrum, answer the most commonly asked questions about alcohol addiction and discover options for intervention and care, among much else.
Treatment Options for Alcohol Abuse
The educational endeavors of Alcohol Awareness Month would not be complete without taking the measure of all treatment options available.
Medically monitored detoxification. Heavy alcohol consumption over a prolonged period of time can sometimes cause serious alcohol withdrawal symptoms, necessitating detoxification. Depending on the severity of use, withdrawal symptoms can range from temporary anxiety and insomnia to the potential for delirium tremens and seizures. In most cases, a secure, comforting place within a nurturing and therapeutic atmosphere can suffice for beginning treatment. In other cases, additional anti-anxiety and anti-seizure medications will be administered during detox.
Residential inpatient treatment. Once the body is safely detoxed of alcohol in a secure environment, typically over a period of three to seven days, AUD patients might then move to residential inpatient care. There they will receive comprehensive treatment, attending to the needs of mind, body and spirit, through immersion in 12-Step programs, individual, group and family therapy, and a variety of other therapeutic and educational offerings.
Outpatient or digital health treatment. Another option, either following an inpatient residency or at the beginning of treatment itself, is an outpatient program, which standardly allows patients to maintain their personal and professional schedules while receiving one individual and one group session per week, at least for the first year of recovery. Digital health options are now available, too, which allow for outpatient treatment from wherever patients choose to log on.
Intervention. Sometimes when a patient isn’t ready to take the above steps, an intervention is warranted. Under the guidance of a professional, an intervention gathers the friends and family of those suffering from AUD to bring the full extent of their problems to their awareness and present opportunities for help through further treatment options. Rather than being an occasion for confrontation or compulsion, an intervention is an expression of love and care as well as an opening for change.
Ongoing recovery support. At last, long-term recovery depends on a recovery community, comprised of fellow travelers in a life free from alcohol. In addition to participation in a 12-Step program like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, Recovery Centers of America also has an Alumni Association which allows its patients to stay committed and connected for a lifetime of recovery.