"Alcohol and your health – where do you draw the line?" is the question asked by the 2003 National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD), a program of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Screening for Mental Health (SMH), Inc., and their partners. On April 10, nearly 4000 sites across the country will offer free, anonymous screening for alcohol problems, information on the health consequences of at-risk drinking, the opportunity to discuss personal risk with a health professional, and, if appropriate, referral to a treatment program. NASD sites include primary care offices, hospitals, community centers, senior programs, and close to 1000 colleges and universities.

To locate a nearby NASD site, telephone 1-800-405-9200 or visit www.NationalAlcoholScreeningDay.org.

"As many as one-third of Americans may engage in drinking practices that place them at heightened risk for the medical disorders alcohol dependence (alcoholism) and alcohol abuse," said National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. "Others unknowingly use alcohol in ways that pose risks to health—perhaps by drinking during pregnancy or while using a medication that interacts harmfully with alcohol. Further, individual drinkers may respond differently to the same of amount of alcohol on the basis of genetic and other physical differences, age, gender, health status, drinking practices, and many other factors that are the focus of ongoing research. NASD affords all American adults the opportunity to discuss with a health professional how they should weigh these factors in deciding if, when, and how they use alcohol."

"A truthful self-assessment about alcohol use may not be easy but denial can be devastating or even deadly," said Charles G. Curie, M.A., A.C.S.W., Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. "Too many Americans realize too late that alcohol misuse can lead to incredible losses: lost family and friends, lost jobs and opportunities, and lost lives. Especially during this stressful time, we urge all American adults to understand the effects of alcohol on health and learn their own risk levels. Doing so can change lives."

How many Americans may benefit from NASD is evident from analysis of the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey, a representative nationwide household survey of 42,862 U.S. adults aged 18 and older conducted in 1992. NIAAA researchers examined the NLAES data using the alcohol screening cut points (for men, no more than 14 drinks per week and 4 on any day; for women, no more than 7 drinks per week and 3 on any day) and found that almost one-third of the 1992 adult population exceeded these limits, some occasionally, some often. As a group, their risk for alcohol disorders was markedly higher than the risk for drinkers who stayed within the screening limits. Nearly one in four persons who exceeded the limits met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence, compared with fewer than 1 in 100 people who drank less.

The analysis is contained in the first edition of Helping Patients with Alcohol Problems: A Health Practitioner’s Guide, developed by NIAAA with a panel of primary care experts and disseminated for use in screening and brief intervention at all NASD sites. NIAAA and The American Medical Association, one of thousands of NASD partners, will mail the Practitioner Guide to 40,000 primary care physicians to arrive in April, Alcohol Awareness Month. Practitioners also may access the document at www.niaaa.nih.gov on April 10. "NIAAA sees this outreach effort as a critical first step to incorporate alcohol screening and brief intervention as a routine component of American health care," said Dr. Li.

Research over the past 30 years has contributed important information about the risks and benefits of alcohol to health and the consequences of drinking more than moderate amounts. These advances in knowledge in turn have led to improved methods to prevent and treat alcohol abuse and dependence, and alcohol-related pathologies. More than 30 studies indicate that screening and brief intervention for alcohol problems is an effective means of preventing addiction and other serious problems. NASD provides a forum for the dissemination of these advances to the general public and health professionals alike.

A program of the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health, Inc., NASD has been held each April since 1999 as a part of National Alcohol Awareness Month. In 2002, NASD drew more than 90,000 participants and screened more than 45,000 individuals. Funding partners are NIAAA, the lead Federal entity for research on the causes, consequences, treatment and prevention of alcohol abuse, alcoholism, and related problems, and SAMHSA, the lead federal agency for improving accountability, quality, and effectiveness of the nation's substance abuse prevention, addictions treatment and mental health services. NIAAA and SAMHSA are components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

For interviews with NIAAA staff members, please telephone the NIAAA Press Office (301/443-0595 or -3860). For interviews with Mr. Curie, please telephone the SAMHSA Press Office (301/443-8956). For additional information about National Alcohol Screening Day, visit www.nationalalcoholscreeningday.org; for alcohol research information, visit www.niaaa.nih.gov; and for information about treatment and prevention resources, visit www.samhsa.gov.