April is Alcohol Awareness Month!
In this post:
April is National Alcohol Awareness month, so this unfairly cold and snowy April, we’re going to talk a bit about alcohol use, how to know when drinking is a problem, Alaska’s rates of excessive drinking, and how you or a family member can get help if drinking is a problem. If you’re here because you’re already pretty sure that you or a loved one has a drinking problem and you just want to know what to do about it, use the link above to skip down to “where to go for help” for resources and ideas for where to start in Alaska.
Why are we talking about alcohol use?
Most people are at least generally aware of the dangers of drinking and driving, and that alcohol is the cause of many traffic-related deaths in the United States. In 2020, 11,654 people in the U.S. died in motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol, which is 30% of all traffic-related deaths in the United States. That alcohol and driving don’t mix well probably isn’t news—but if it is, now you know!
What may come as a surprise is that drinking and driving—not to mention other bad decisions associated with alcohol consumption, like getting in barfights, showing up to work hung-over, having unprotected sex, and drunk-dialing your ex—is not the only risk of drinking too much alcohol. High levels of alcohol consumption and excessive drinking can also cause long-term chronic diseases such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease, and liver disease, and can contribute to cancer risk.
Sure, if you happen to be a young adult, chronic diseases may sound like a problem for Future You. Unfortunately, depending on how much you’re drinking, Future You might be a lot sooner than you’d think.
And if you aren’t particularly young anymore, those chronic diseases might be upon you already without you even realizing that they are, in fact, the cause of all your misery, and that your drinking might be connected. The only way to know is to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about your drinking.
What counts as excessive drinking?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define “excessive alcohol use” as “binge drinking, heavy drinking, any alcohol use by people under the age 21 minimum legal drinking age, and any alcohol use by pregnant women.”
- Binge drinking is defined as a “pattern of alcohol consumption that brings the blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level to .08% or more,” usually “5 or more drinks on a single occasion for men or 4 or more drinks on a single occasion for women.”
- Heavy drinking is defined as consuming 15 or more drinks per week for men, or 8 or more drinks per week for women.
Either of these patterns of drinking can result in the above-mentioned bad decisions that result in accident, injury, violence, death, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, employment difficulty, or emotional distress, and also in the chronic diseases that can reduce your life expectancy and quality of life.
Not sure what counts as “a drink?” Here’s a handy illustration:
What counts as an alcohol use disorder?
Not everyone who drinks excessively has an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease. The CDC lists the signs and symptoms of a severe alcohol use disorder as including:
- Inability to limit drinking.
- Continuing to drink despite personal or professional problems.
- Needing to drink more to get the same effect.
- Wanting a drink so badly you can’t think of anything else.
These signs and symptoms point toward an addiction to alcohol, which, like other substance use addictions, is a chronic disease that may need intervention from a healthcare provider to be managed safely and effectively. If any of these things sound like you, talk to your primary care provider (that’s us at ICHC!) about resources for reducing or quitting alcohol. It can be painful and extremely difficult to suddenly quit drinking and go through alcohol withdrawal, but there are many programs and even medication options to help you get through it.
How do I know if I have a problem?
If you are having trouble in your relationships, at work, in school, in social activities, or if you are struggling with how you think or feel, you might have a drinking problem. If you drink excessively or have an addiction to alcohol, you probably need some help to reduce or quit drinking.
Still unsure? Use the button below to do a self-assessment.
You are Not Alone – Alaska by the Numbers
Many Alaskan communities struggle with excessive drinking. The CDC reports that between 2009-2018, 215 people were killed in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services reported in 2018 that binge drinking rates among adults are higher in Alaska (19%) than the U.S. average (16%), and that from 2010-2016, there were 962 alcohol-related deaths in Alaska. In 2021, 27 Alaska health centers reported a total of 4,088 patients with known alcohol-related disorders, or about 3.5% of total health center population.
Here's a not-so-fun fact: we tend to spend time with other people who drink about the same amount as we do. That means that it’s easy to assume the amount you drink is normal—but most adults of legal drinking age follow the recommended limits. 3 in 6 don’t drink at all, 1 in 6 drink in moderation, and only 2 in 6 exceed moderate drinking. If you’re looking at your friends and peers, and they all drink more than moderate amounts or meet the criteria for excessive drinking above, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have a drinking problem—it means they might have one, too!
Where to go for Help
Your primary care provider (again, that’s us at ICHC!) can talk with you about your drinking and help you figure out what resources you might need to reduce or quit your drinking. Or, you can check out the state of Alaska web page on Substance Use Treatment & Recovery to find providers and learn about Naltrexone, a medication that helps with alcohol use disorders. You can also dial 211 on your phone to be connected with Alaska’s call center to help you find a place to go for treatment.
Private insurance is federally required to cover substance user disorder and mental health treatment, including alcohol recovery. Alaska Medicaid also covers these services. Community Health Centers (like us at ICHC!) offer sliding fee discounts based on your income, whether or not you have insurance, so you can find health care that you can afford.
What can I do to help?
If you think a loved one may have an alcohol use disorder (or a “drinking problem,” if it’s easier to talk about it that way!), you can give them resources to start getting help. You can’t force a loved one to accept help, but you can offer support and encouragement. SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), offers 24-hour referral information for treatment and support groups, including for families of people with substance use or alcohol problems. You may want to reach out to be connected to emotional support of your own, if your loved one’s problem is affecting you.
Alaska Department of Health Division of Behavioral Health. “Substance Use Disorder Treatment in Alaska.” Health.alaska.gov, 2023, health.alaska.gov/dbh/Pages/TreatmentRecovery/treatment.aspx. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. “CDC - Frequently Asked Questions - Alcohol.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2019, www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.
---. “Sobering Facts: Alcohol-Impaired Driving | Alaska.” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, July 2020, www.cdc.gov/transportationsafety/pdf/impaired-driving-new/CDC-impaired-driving-fact-sheet-Alaska.pdf. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.
---. “What Is Excessive Drinking? | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, 25 May 2022, www.cdc.gov/drinklessbeyourbest/excessivedrinking.html. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.
Health Resources & Services Administration. “Table 6A: Selected Diagnoses and Services Rendered | Alaska Data 2021.” Data.hrsa.gov, 2022, data.hrsa.gov/tools/data-reporting/program-data/state/AK/table?tableName=6A. Accessed 14 Apr. 2023.
SAMHSA Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “National Helpline | SAMHSA - Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Samhsa.gov, 14 May 2022, www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.
State of Alaska Department of Health & Social Services. “State Report Highlights Negative Health Impacts of Alcohol Misuse in Alaska.” Health.alaska.gov, 7 May 2018, health.alaska.gov/News/Documents/press/2018/DHSS_PR_AlcoholReport_2018_May7.pdf. Accessed 13 Apr. 2023.