April is Na­tional Al­co­hol Aware­ness Month

The Standard Journal - - LOCAL - By Me­lanie Dal­las LPC

As the na­tion con­tin­ues to grap­ple with the opi­oid epi­demic, it can be easy to for­get opi­oids are not in fact our na­tion’s most widely abused drugs. De­spite the headlines, the in­crease in use of opi­oids like heroin and fen­tanyl, and the tragic in­crease in opi­oid over­dose deaths, the most widely abused drug in the U.S. con­tin­ues to be le­gal and ac­ces­si­ble across our com­mu­ni­ties. That drug is al­co­hol.

Although I in no way mean to min­i­mize the sig­nif­i­cant problems as­so­ci­ated with the opi­oid epi­demic, the fact that al­co­hol is le­gal has per­haps made us less con­scious of its im­pact. And the im­pact of al­co­hol abuse is sub­stan­tial.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) re­ports 88,000 U.S. deaths are caused by ex­ces­sive al­co­hol use an­nu­ally, mak­ing it the third most com­mon life-style re­lated cause of death (be­hind smok­ing and poor diet/lack of ex­er­cise). By way of com­par­i­son, that’s al­most twice the num­ber of deaths from opi­oid over­doses – ap­prox­i­mately 47,600 in 2017.

Ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Al­co­hol Abuse and Al­co­holism (NIAAA), prob­lem drink­ing that be­comes se­vere is given the med­i­cal di­ag­no­sis of al­co­hol use dis­or­der (AUD).

AUD is a chronic re­laps­ing brain dis­ease char­ac­ter­ized by com­pul­sive al­co­hol use, loss of con­trol over al­co­hol in­take, and a neg­a­tive emo­tional state when not us­ing. NIAAA es­ti­mates 16 mil­lion peo­ple in the United States have AUD, in­clud­ing more than 600,000 ado­les­cents aged 12 to 17.

Risk fac­tors for AUD in­clude a family his­tory of al­co­holism, the age at which a per­son first drinks al­co­hol, or hav­ing a part­ner or friends that drink ex­ces­sively. Some men­tal health problems, such as de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and bipo­lar dis­or­der, have also been shown to in­crease the risk of an AUD.

Ex­ces­sive al­co­hol con­sump­tion can lead to a num­ber of phys­i­cal health problems – memory problems, chronic dis­ease (such as high blood pres­sure, stroke and liver dis­ease) and can­cers of the esoph­a­gus, liver, throat and colon, among oth­ers – as well as be­hav­iors that can in­crease the risk of un­in­ten­tional injuries, vi­o­lence and sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions.

Of course, many peo­ple can drink al­co­hol re­spon­si­bly and not en­counter health or so­cial problems. Be­cause al­co­hol is le­gal and so­cially ac­cept­able, it can be easy to over­look prob­lem drink­ing, or to ra­tio­nal­ize ex­ces­sive drink­ing as the re­sult of stress or just ‘blow­ing off steam’ once in a while. But the fact is, ex­ces­sive drink­ing is a risk fac­tor for al­co­hol de­pen­dence.

While di­ag­no­sis of AUD comes from a doc­tor or treat­ment pro­fes­sional, if you are con­cerned that you or a loved might have a drink­ing prob­lem, there are some sim­ple ques­tions you can ask to de­ter­mine if there might be a prob­lem. For ex­am­ple, you might be at risk of an AUD if in the past year you:

Had times when you ended up drink­ing more or longer than you in­tended.

More than once wanted or tried to cut down or stop drink­ing but couldn’t.

Spent a lot of time drink­ing or be­ing sick from the af­ter­ef­fects.

Found that drink­ing or be­ing sick from drink­ing of­ten in­ter­fered with home, family, job or school.

Got­ten into sit­u­a­tions while or af­ter drink­ing that in­creased your chances of getting hurt.

Con­tin­ued to drink even though it was mak­ing you feel depressed or anx­ious.

Had to drink much more than you once did to get the ef­fect you want.

Found that when the ef­fects of al­co­hol were wear­ing off, you had with­drawal symp­toms.

If you or some­one you know is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing any of these is­sues from drink­ing, there may be a prob­lem and it is im­por­tant to get help – so talk to your doc­tor or lo­cal treat­ment agency.

Like any sub­stance use dis­or­der, al­co­hol use dis­or­der can range from mild to se­vere and have a wide range of con­se­quences for an in­di­vid­ual. But, also like any other sub­stance use prob­lem, re­cov­ery is al­ways pos­si­ble.

Me­lanie Dal­las is a li­censed pro­fes­sional coun­selor and CEO of High­land Rivers Health, which pro­vides treat­ment and re­cov­ery ser­vices for in­di­vid­u­als with men­tal ill­ness, sub­stance use dis­or­ders, and in­tel­lec­tual and de­vel­op­men­tal dis­abil­i­ties in a 12-county re­gion of north­west Georgia that in­cludes Bar­tow, Chero­kee, Floyd, Fan­nin, Gilmer, Gor­don, Har­al­son, Mur­ray, Pauld­ing, Pickens, Polk and Whit­field coun­ties.

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