What is Alcohol Awareness Month?

April is The National Alcohol Awareness Month. Since 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has sponsored the educational event. The goal is to reduce the stigma surrounding the disease of alcoholism and encourage people to seek treatment. It’s an opportunity for communities to have conversations about alcohol prevention, misuse, dependence, alcohol use disorders, and treatment options.

Is There a Need for Alcohol Awareness Month?

A recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found 14.5 million Americans over the age of twelve and over 400,000 adolescents have an alcohol use disorder. Survey results also show that approximately 95,000 Americans die from an alcohol-related cause every year. More than ten percent of children under seventeen have a parent who is an alcoholic.

Statistics like these make it obvious that there is still a need for alcohol awareness. Out of the millions with an alcohol use disorder, only 7.2% receive treatment. One reason is that there is a stigma that still exists. Programs like Alcohol Awareness Month can help break down barriers, however.

Are There Themes for Alcohol Awareness Month?

The overall theme for this year’s Alcohol Awareness Month is “Changing Attitudes: It’s Not a Rite of Passage.” Community organizations, usually drug and alcohol treatment facilities, are often the ones who host the events. Schools, churches, and colleges are organizations that may also host events. According to NCADD, each week of Alcohol Awareness Month is a different theme.

  • Week 1: Harms to Others/Impaired Driving/Violence (April 1-3)
  • Week 2: Increases in Alcohol-Related Emergency Room Visits (April 4-10)
  • Week 3: Alcohol’s Role in The Opioid Epidemic (April 11-17)
  • Week 4: Alcohol and Cancer (April 18-24)

Alcohol Awareness Month is a time when treatment providers can educate the public, provide assessments, and recommend treatment when appropriate.

Weekly themes are like conversation starters. They help break the ice when introducing awareness information to community members. They are a starting point, and many other topics can be addressed.

The first weekend of Alcohol Awareness Month is always Alcohol-Free Weekend. It is a challenge to vow not to drink for three days. The idea is that if you cannot stop for three days, reach out for more information or an assessment.

Alcohol Awareness Topics

When having a meaningful conversation about alcohol and the dangers it presents to teens and adults, some topics should be included, like the following:

1. Causes of Alcohol Use Disorder

There is no single reason someone becomes addicted to alcohol. Rather there are multiple risk factors that, when combined, make it more likely. Risk factors include:

  • Inheriting the genes associated with alcohol use disorder
  • Being raised by someone with an alcohol use disorder
  • Having low self-esteem 
  • Being susceptible to peer pressure or family pressure to drink alcohol
  • Having lived through past trauma, such as abuse, natural disaster, or significant life change

2. Signs of Alcohol Dependence vs. Alcohol Use Disorder

Drinking alcohol changes the structure of the brain and how it functions. When it reaches the brain, it signals a release of neurotransmitters associated with feeling good, like serotonin and dopamine. The more and longer you drink, the more your brain gets used to functioning with alcohol.

If you try to stop drinking alcohol, you will experience withdrawal symptoms, your brain’s way of convincing you to keep drinking. Withdrawal symptoms are a sign of alcohol dependence.

Withdrawal symptoms are one of eleven criteria for diagnosing alcohol use disorder. How many criteria you meet determines the severity of your disorder. They are:

  • Increasing tolerance
  • Continuing to misuse alcohol despite broken relationships
  • Continuing to misuse alcohol despite adverse consequences professionally, personally, and socially
  • Putting yourself in dangerous situations while drinking or obtaining alcohol
  • Being unable to stop or cut back even though you want to
  • Giving up activities you once enjoyed drinking alcohol
  • Spending most of your time seeking alcohol, drinking alcohol, or recovering from alcohol misuse
  • Continuing to misuse alcohol even though you know it is worsening a physical or psychological condition
  • Craving alcohol and having strong urges to drink

3. Effects of Alcohol on the Body and Brain

Misuse of alcohol over a long period can have damaging effects on the entire body. Because not everyone knows the dangers of alcohol, this is a good topic for awareness. Examples of facts to share about alcohol:

  • It changes the brain’s communication pathways
  • It can lead to liver diseases that can be fatal
  • It can lead to ulcers
  • It is a risk factor for cancers such as liver, pancreatic, breast, esophageal, and colorectal 
  • It weakens the immune system
  • It can hinder reproductive functioning
  • It can lead to arrhythmias, high blood pressure, and other heart problems

4. Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder

Numerous treatment options exist for someone with an alcohol use disorder on an inpatient or outpatient basis. If you need medication to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings, inpatient detox is a good place to start.

Inpatient rehab is appropriate for those needing a supportive environment in early recovery, with round-the-clock care. Partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs are often recommended for people with a great support system at home but still need a structured program with ten or more support hours each week.

Medication-assisted treatment can be given at each level, but only when combined with individual and group therapies, family therapy, and peer support groups. Treatments that utilize behavioral therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management, and motivational interviewing are proven to have positive outcomes.

What Are Other NCADD Programs?

NCADD has a long history of contributing to awareness about alcohol. To further support alcohol awareness throughout each year, NCADD created additional programs. Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) and Know Your Limits campaigns are examples of programs that any organization can use at any time of the year to promote awareness. They are especially powerful when used for prevention purposes among children and teens.

To find out more information on Alcohol Awareness Month or any other alcohol-related topic, contact your local mental health center to see how they are participating in this year’s event.