Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. has recognized the month of April as Alcohol Awareness Month to increase public awareness and understanding, and encourage local communities to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. This month is dedicated to educating people about the treatment and prevention of alcoholism, particularly among our youth, and the important role that parents can play in giving kids a better understanding of the impact that alcohol can have on their lives.
Alcohol and drug use by young people is extremely dangerous – both to themselves and to society – and is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, educational failure, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex and other problem behaviors, even for those who may never develop a dependence or addiction.
Gerard Moeller, M.D. is the director of the Institute for Drug and Alcohol Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is also a professor of psychiatry, pharmacology and toxicology, and neurology at VCU School of Medicine.
Dr. Moeller says, “there are many detrimental effects of alcohol on the body. They can arise from drinking too much on a single occasion (binge drinking) or drinking too much over time (heavy or risky alcohol use and alcoholism).”
Alcohol is associated with heart problems including high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart), arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat) and stroke. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver and heavy drinking can lead to fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. People who drink too much have higher rates of certain cancers, including mouth, esophagus, throat, liver and breast cancers. Drinking also affects the brain –leading to changes in mood, cognition, and in extreme cases, coordination and memory. Drinking also suppresses the immune system and makes people at increased risk of infections such as pneumonia and tuberculosis. Finally, alcohol is a teratogen, which is a substance that causes birth defects. Fetal alcohol syndrome is the leading cause of preventable intellectual disability in the United States.
Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can also affect all aspects of a person’s day-to-day life. Long-term alcohol use can cause serious health complications, can damage emotional stability, finances, career, and impact one’s family, friends and community. Alcohol is the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: 17.6 million people, or one in every 12 adults, suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence along with several million more who engage in risky, binge drinking patterns that could lead to alcohol problems. More than half of all adults have a family history of alcoholism or problem drinking, and more than 7 million children live in a household where at least one parent is dependent on or has abused alcohol.
Facts About Alcohol*:
- 88,000 deaths are annually attributed to excessive alcohol use
- Alcoholism is the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation
- Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 2.5 million years of potential life lost annually, or an average of about 30 years of potential life lost for each death
- Up to 40% of all hospital beds in the United States (except for those being used by maternity and intensive care patients) are being used to treat health conditions that are related to alcohol consumption
We can use this month to raise awareness about alcohol abuse and take action to prevent it, both at home and in the community.
Here are just a few ideas:
- Encourage friends or family members to make small changes, like keeping track of their drinking and setting drinking limits.
- Share tips with parents to help them talk with their kids about the risks of alcohol use.
- Ask doctors and nurses to talk to their patients about the benefits of drinking less or quitting.
If you are drinking too much, you can improve your health by cutting back or quitting. Here are some strategies to help you cut back or stop drinking:
- Limit your drinking to no more than 1 drink a day for women or 2 drinks a day for men.
- Keep track of how much you drink.
- Choose a day each week when you will not drink.
- Don’t drink when you are upset.
- Limit the amount of alcohol you keep at home.
- Avoid places where people drink a lot.
- Make a list of reasons not to drink.
Education and awareness are important so that people can make healthy decisions about drinking.
*Statistics from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.