Fitness Facts: April is Alcohol Awareness Month
By Connie Colbert
GCU Director of Health Services
You might ask yourself why it is important to have a month devoted to the awareness of alcohol.
The answer, according to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, is it is “a way of increasing outreach and education regarding the dangers of alcoholism and issues related to alcohol.”
The program was started in April 1987 with the intention of targeting college-age students who might be drinking too much as a part of their newfound freedom.
A big part of the work of Alcohol Awareness Month is to point out the stigma that still surrounds alcoholism and substance abuse in general.
For many, denial is a common trait among those struggling with alcohol abuse. They often underestimate the amount they drink, the duration of their drinking problem and the impact it has had on their life. Or they overestimate their ability to control their drinking or to quit.
Denial is also common among friends and family members who are uncomfortable acknowledging the seriousness and reality of the situation.
Since becoming a national movement, it has drawn more attention to the causes and effects of alcoholism as well as how to help families and communities deal with drinking problems
The statistics surrounding alcohol use and abuse are staggering:
- According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 85.6% of people age 18 and older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime, 69.5% reported that they drank in the past year, and 54.9% (59.1% of men in this age group and 51.0% of women in this age group) reported that they drank in the past month.
- According to the same 2019 survey, more than 14.5 million people age 12 and older (5.3% of this age group) had an alcohol use disorder (AUD). This number includes 9.0 million men (6.8% of men in this age group) and 5.5 million women7(3.9% of women in this age group).
- An estimated 95,000 people (approximately 68,000 men and 27,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The first is tobacco, and the second is poor diet and physical inactivity.
Alcohol addiction is a disease that affects people of all walks of life. Experts have tried to pinpoint factors, such as genetics, sex, race or socioeconomics, that may predispose someone to alcohol addiction. But it has no single cause. Psychological, genetic and behavioral factors all can contribute to having the disease.
Alcohol addiction can show itself in a variety of ways and often can be difficult to recognize. But there are some key components to watch for:
- Increased quantity or frequency of use of alcohol
- Drinking at inappropriate times, such as first thing in the morning, or in places like church or work
- Wanting to be where alcohol is present and avoiding situations where there is none
- Changes in friendships; someone with an alcohol addiction may choose friends who also drink heavily
- Avoiding contact with loved ones
- Hiding alcohol, or hiding while drinking
- Dependence on alcohol to function in everyday life
- Increased lethargy, depression or other emotional issues
- Legal or professional problems, such as an arrest or loss of a job
- Being unable to limit the amount of alcohol you drink
- Wanting to cut down on how much you drink or making unsuccessful attempts to do so
- Spending a lot of time drinking, getting alcohol or recovering from alcohol use
- Feeling a strong craving or urge to drink alcohol
- Failing to fulfill major obligations at work, school or home because of repeated alcohol use
- Continuing to drink alcohol even though you know it’s causing physical, social or interpersonal problems
- Giving up or reducing social and work activities and hobbies
- Using alcohol in situations where it’s not safe, such as when driving or swimming
- Developing a tolerance to alcohol so you need more to feel its effect, or you have a reduced effect from the same amount
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms — such as nausea, sweating and shaking — when you don’t drink, or drinking to avoid these symptoms
How do I know if I have an Alcohol Use Disorder? You may have an AUD if you can answer yes to two or more of these questions:
In the past year, have you …
- Ended up drinking more or for a longer time than you had planned to?
- Wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of your time drinking or recovering from drinking?
- Felt a strong need to drink?
- Found that drinking – or being sick from drinking – often interfered with your family life, job or school?
- Kept drinking even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that you enjoyed just so you could drink?
- Gotten into dangerous situations while drinking or after drinking? Some examples are driving drunk and having unsafe sex.
- Kept drinking even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious? Or when it was adding to another health problem?
- Had to drink more and more to feel the effects of the alcohol?
- Had withdrawal symptoms when the alcohol was wearing off? They include trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea and sweating. In severe cases, you could have a fever, seizure or hallucinations.
Besides causing problems with relationships, work performance and productivity, excessive alcohol consumption also can cause major health issues, including:
- Bleeding ulcers
- Complications to diabetes
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Sexual problems
- Birth defects
- Bone loss
- Vision problems
- Increased risk of cancer
- Suppressed immune function
- Inflammation of the liver and ultimately liver failure
If you realize that your alcohol use is interfering with your ability to do your job, damaging aspects of your life or health, and causing worry and pain in the lives of the ones you love but you just continue to drink, it might be time to reach out for help.
Or if a loved one is showing signs of alcohol abuse or dependence, it might be time to reach out to someone who can help.
There is help and hope!
To find a nearby specialist, you can call:
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
- The HOPE Line at the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) – 1-800-622-2255