April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a time to learn about the health and social problems caused by drinking too much. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) encourages the public to dedicate this month to understanding how excessive drinking can affect health, to evaluating their own drinking habits, and to discovering the latest developments in treatments for alcohol use disorders.

Consequences of drinking too much
Many adults drink moderately and responsibly without complications, and there are indications from research that some can derive modest health benefits. At the same time, alcohol-related problems – which result from drinking too much, too fast, or too often – are among the most significant public health issues in the United States and internationally. For example, an estimated 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder – a medical term describing a range of mild, moderate, and severe alcohol problems. In addition, research shows that binge drinking is not uncommon among adults in the United States. Nearly one quarter of people age 18 and older report that they consumed five or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least one day in the past month. Importantly, this consumption pattern is also prevalent among adolescents ages 12-17, with about 7 percent of them reporting drinking in this way.

Excessive drinking affects all Americans, whether or not they drink. Alcohol problems cost the United States $224 billion in 2006, primarily from lost productivity, but also from health care and property damage costs.

Evaluate drinking patterns
NIAAA encourages people to evaluate their drinking habits during Alcohol Awareness Month.

For women, low risk drinking can be defined as no more than three drinks on any single day and no more than seven drinks per week. For men, it is defined as no more than four drinks on any single day and no more than14 drinks per week. NIAAA research shows that only about 2 in 100 people who drink within these limits have an alcohol use disorder.  

The NIAAA website can help you with the following informational and self-assessment tools:

Reduce drinking to lower risk for problems
For those who find that their drinking patterns are above the recommended limits, cutting back or quitting can have significant health benefits. People who reduce their drinking decrease their risks for injuries, liver and heart disease, depression, stroke, sexually transmitted diseases, and several types of cancers.

Treatment can help
No matter how severe the problem may seem, most people with an alcohol use disorder can benefit from some form of treatment. However, each year, only a fraction of people with alcohol problems (about 15 percent) seek professional help. Currently, there are two types of evidence-based treatments shown to benefit people with alcohol use disorders – established behavioral treatments which focus on changing drinking behaviors, and medications, which are often coupled with behavioral treatment.

Three medications have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people with alcohol problems stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse.

These medications – naltrexone, acamprosate, and disulfiram – are non-addictive and can be used alone or in combination with behavioral treatment.

To locate an alcoholism treatment specialist in your area, visit the SAMHSA Substance Abuse Treatment Locator (http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/) or contact the American Society of Addiction Medicine (http://www.asam.org/) or the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatrists (http://www.aaap.org/)

New NIAAA Publication –Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help
NIAAA will soon be releasing a publication for the public that describes the current range of options for treating alcohol use disorders. It is intended as a resource to help people understand what choices are available and what to consider when selecting among them.  

Learn more at:
www.niaaa.nih.gov

www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov

SAMHSA Treatment Locator: http://findtreatment.samhsa.gov