Alcohol addiction is a challenge that many people in our society face, and the prevalence of alcohol consumption is a contributing factor to this problem. More than 86 percent of adult Americans report having drunk alcohol at some point in their lives. A further 70 percent said they had consumed alcohol in the past year, and 56 percent indicated they’d had a drink in the last month.
Knocking back a beer or two isn’t inherently a problem in its own right. What’s concerning is the number of people who engage in binge drinking. Most health organizations define binge drinking as when a:
- Man has five or more drinks within two hours
- A woman has four or more in the same time frame
Likewise, nearly 27 percent of people over the age 18 in the U.S. reported binge drinking in the last month. What’s more, nearly 40 percent of young adult college students said they had engaged in binge drinking in the last month.
Alcohol is also regularly listed by researchers as one of the most economically and socially destructive forces in American society. Nationally, 88,000 deaths per year are attributed to alcohol consumption in some form. There is also an inestimable individual cost that accompanies alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol Awareness Month
To combat these issues, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence declared that each April would be Alcohol Awareness Month. Since 1987, organizations nationwide have worked to reduce the stigma associated with alcoholism and the recovery process. The goals of Alcohol Awareness Month are to:
- Educate the public about alcohol and addiction
- Foster an understanding of what recovery is and who might benefit from it
- Encourage communities to develop programs
- Provide a sense of hope to those who are struggling
- Help families and friends of those with alcohol use disorders to understand what’s happening
- Mitigate long-held societal perceptions that make alcohol misuse seem cool and fun
- Dispel the notion that those with alcohol use disorder are broken or deserve to suffer
The timing of the month is intended to get ahead of big annual moments in youth culture that align with heavy drinking. These include events like high school proms and graduations, the end of the college semester and the beginning of summer.
Since the establishment of April as Alcohol Awareness Month, a number of major organizations have gotten on board. These include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
Putting information in places where people in trouble can find it is key to raising awareness. Anyone who has a substance use disorder should have access to basic information and referrals for recovery programs. They should also have access to diversion programs for nonviolent offenders and training in dealing with alcohol overdoses and related addiction problems.
Likewise, there’s a strong belief that the rights of people who have substance use disorders need to be protected. This means encouraging local, state and federal governments to pass laws focused on treatment. It also means helping members of law enforcement draw distinctions between substance use disorders and dangerous criminal conduct, placing the focus on intervention rather than punishment.
Over the decades, a great deal of traction has been gained. The pervasiveness of alcohol addiction in our society, though, means there’s still plenty of work to be done.
Educating the Public About Alcohol Use Disorders
There are three big educational issues that face those trying to get the public to be more aware of alcohol use problems in our society. Foremost, it’s important to get the public up to speed on what the signs are that someone has a disordered relationship with drinking. Second, people need to be aware of what to do when someone suffers an alcohol overdose. Finally, long-run and large-scale social attitudes about drinking need to be confronted openly and honestly.
We have a tendency in our society to assume that someone with an addiction problem looks like an addict. This leads to a lot of dismissiveness toward high-functioning alcoholics as well as those who hide their drinking and others who just don’t fit the stereotypes of heavy drinkers. While the impression of a classic drunk like that shown in the movies, often for comedic rather than tragic effect, represents some real things, there’s a lot more to addiction.
Most heavy drinkers are functional people. In fact, consumption of beer, wine and liquor tracks with increased incomes. Don’t assume that someone’s life has to appear to be an outward train wreck for them to have a substance use disorder.
It’s also critical to know the signs of an alcohol overdose. There is a real risk that a person may die while drinking, and not just due to stumbling or ending up in a car accident. Alcohol poisoning directly accounts for at least 2,200 deaths in America each year. In order to provide proper medical care, you need to know how to spot the signs of an alcohol overdose. Symptoms may include:
- Confusion, disorientation, and clumsiness
- Unresponsiveness, even if the person is conscious or semiconscious
- Blurred vision
- Decreased reaction times
- Going unconscious
- Slurring words
- Skin turning blue due to lack of oxygen
If you see someone experiencing an alcohol overdose, you should make sure to sit them down to prevent possible injuries from falling or stumbling. Hydration may be helpful, but don’t force the issue if the person appears to be vomiting or dry heaving. Contact 911 and have an emergency responder check the person out.
Changing societal attitudes toward heavy alcohol drinking is also a major goal of Alcohol Awareness Month. Especially within American youth culture, binge drinking is often perceived as a rite of passage. Colleges and other institutions of higher learning also reinforce these types of norms. Disturbingly, nearly half of all members of college fraternal organizations exhibited signs of alcohol use disorders more than a decade after completing their schooling.
Another half of the effort to change societal attitudes is changing the way the legal system deals with cases. In particular, the hope is to get more resources aimed at treatment and recovery versus punishment. To this end, diversion programs are one way that courts and police can address problems they see with individuals who have been taken into the system. As long as the offender hasn’t committed a violent crime, the goal is to keep them out of jail as long as they don’t re-offend. If they manage to complete treatment and stay out of trouble for a set amount of time, they will exit the system with clean records.
Perceptions can be difficult to change for a variety of reasons. There is a significant investment of effort put into convincing people that alcohol consumption is a new positive. This includes the debatable claims that alcohol can reduce cholesterol levels, hypertension, and other medical concerns. Industry marketers are focused on these stories as part of a charm offensive aimed at minimizing the social and economic risks that come with drinking. The mommy wine subculture fostered by marketers is another source of concern. Countering these efforts to get more people to drink is important.
Individual perceptions can also be problematic. If someone seems to have their life “together,” it can be hard for them to see that they might have a substance use disorder. Additionally, addiction isn’t the only form of disordered behavior. Some people drink for social interaction or as a form of self-medication. For example, someone who suffers from social anxiety disorder or depression might drink to fit in and make friends. These individuals may lead to seemingly stable and ordinary lives, even as addiction is creating long-term damage.
Much work has been put into determining what methods of outreach work best. Folks associated with Alcohol Awareness Month lean heavily on techniques like producing public service announcements and conducting activities at schools, churches and other local institutions. The goal is to make folks more aware of what the problems with alcohol are and how these issues impact both communities and individuals. In every version of these outreach efforts, it’s critical to include information about the recovery process and how people can get access to the help they need.
Free rehab programs aren’t common enough in most communities in America. While groups like AA and NA are potential sources of group counseling, they don’t provide the support required when someone needs to undergo a full detox to deal with forms of full-on chemical addiction. While governments have been changing their attitudes toward recovery as an option, there’s still a major burden placed on people who don’t have health insurance.
Some of the outreach and awareness efforts include helping people with insurance learn how to navigate the system. While changes in recent health care regulations have increased requirements for what has to be covered by plans, there are still issues with getting people into full residential programs. However, people cannot be denied coverage due to mental health or substance use disorders. Your insurance should cover:
- Some form of detox
- Outpatient treatment
You may also be eligible, depending on the terms of your plan, for inpatient treatment. Those on Medicaid, the federal program that underpins most state-level medical assistance programs in the U.S., are eligible for both inpatient and outpatient care as long as it is offered at a Medicaid-approved facility.
Medicare also offers 60 days of inpatient treatment over your lifetime at no coinsurance cost and a further 30 days with a $341 per-day copay. If you don’t have insurance, SAMHSA offers a locator on its website that will point you toward facilities that offer free programs and ones that allow payment plans to be made.
In defending the rights of individuals who have alcohol use disorder, it’s important to reinforce the notion that these forms of treatment are medically necessary. We should not assume that all medical professionals are fully informed on topics related to addiction. There are often disputes, even with practitioners, about whether certain arrangements, such as having a private room, are medically necessary.
Whether you’re dealing with your own set of addiction issues or trying to find help for someone you care about, awareness is the first step. Learn the signs of addiction to alcohol, and then find out how to address the immediate effects of an alcohol overdose. Take the time to discover what resources are available to you and how you can access them. Recovery is a process that takes time, but the important thing is to find a setting where properly supervised care will be provided.