Alcohol Abuse and Alcohol Use Disorders (AUD) are all too prevalent in the U.S. According to the 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 14.5 million individuals ages 12 and older struggle with AUD, which includes 9 million men and 5.5 million women. We also know that excessive drinking increased by 21% during the COVID pandemic. This is cause for alarm because according to experts, a sustained increase in alcohol use for more than one year could result in 19-35% additional deaths. More than 140,000 people already die from alcohol-related causes annually. This makes alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
Alcohol Awareness Month, which takes place in April, was started in 1987 with the goal of increasing awareness and understanding of Alcohol Use Disorders, as well as to shed light on the negative effects of excessive alcohol use and to help reduce the stigma around treatment.
Alcohol Use Disorders can be mild, moderate, or severe. They are characterized by an impaired ability to either stop or control alcohol use despite various levels of consequences. These can include social, occupational, or health consequences. A person’s risk for developing AUD is influenced by a variety of different factors including how much, how often, or how quickly they drink alcohol. The age of first use is another influencing factor. One national survey found that individuals who began drinking before the age of 15 were more than 5 times as likely to report having an AUD than those who waited until age 21 or older to start drinking. Genetics and family history of alcohol-related problems can also increase the likely risk. Lastly, a variety of mental health conditions, such as depression, ADHD, and PTSD, have been associated with an increased risk of developing an AUD.
Although there are a number of contributing risk factors that can increase the likelihood of developing an AUD, there are also a variety of evidence-based treatment approaches that can be used to work through this disorder. There are medication-assisted therapies, which can be used alone or in conjunction with other forms of treatment, behavioral treatments including inpatient and outpatient therapy, and mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Recovery is possible and there’s no “one size fits all” approach to recovery.
Even if you are not struggling with an alcohol-related problem, and just want to reduce your alcohol consumption, there are plenty of strategies that can be implemented. If alcohol tends to be a part of your social life, you could begin to organize alcohol-free events or hangouts instead of going out for a drink or to a bar. Maybe spend time with friends at a coffee shop, start a book club, plan a game night, or go out for a hike. If you are going to an event where you know alcohol will be served, you can plan to drink something non-alcoholic like a mocktail or set a limit for yourself. Quitting or reducing alcohol can also be made much easier with a solid support system. Contemplate telling your family or close friends that you want to reduce or quit drinking alcohol so that they can help and support you throughout the process. Please note that alcohol withdrawal is very dangerous. If you are drinking heavily and suddenly stop or significantly reduce the amount you are drinking, you may experience withdrawal symptoms, some of which can be severe or even life-threatening. The EAP is here to help and can provide guidance, support, and referrals if you are looking to change your relationship with alcohol. You can contact us at 1-800-825-5327. We also provide workplace support and training around substance use.