Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a complex brain disorder that causes an impaired ability to manage or restrain from alcohol consumption, especially when use is excessive and triggers negative social, occupational or health consequences. According to a 2019 national survey, 14.1 million adults ages 18 and older reported living with AUD, and among adolescents ages 12–17, 414,000 adolescents experienced an AUD.
In order to bring awareness, reduce stigma and promote recovery options, Alcohol Awareness Month was created in 1987 by the National Council for Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD). Providers across the country administer life-changing services to individuals living with AUD every day, and substance use services are a vital step in rehabilitation. Honoring Alcohol Awareness throughout the month of April empowers not only providers, but communities to discuss and recognize the dangers of alcohol consumption.
What does AUD look like, anyway?
Experiences, behaviors and symptoms of alcoholism can vary, but signs of substance abuse can include:
In addition, physical implications can appear, such as bloodshot eyes and shakiness. If not addressed and treated, AUD can have more serious and chronic effects on the body. AUD, like all addictions, is a complex disease of the brain. Over time, too much alcohol can lead to liver and brain damage, heart disease, cancer, ulcers, pancreatitis and memory loss.
“The more people know, the more they can watch their consumption patterns and be encouraged to seek help if they think they need it,” substance use and mental health provider Rosecrance stated. “April is a great opportunity for us to educate our clients and the community, reminding them that alcohol use can harm the body, especially when use becomes addiction.”
Rosecrance is a comprehensive provider of substance use and mental health services, with 61 locations in Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin. Their full continuum of care includes residential and outpatient treatment for adolescents, adults and families. While Rosecrance facilitates and discusses AUD services well outside the month of April, calling awareness to the initiative is helpful for recovery and maintenance. While alcoholism can be dangerous, debilitating and deadly, cultivating a sense of hope, control and progress is essential within the Rosecrance recovery community.
“We call awareness to alcohol and other substance use disorders because they can cause so much harm to people’s lives, but yet they can be overcome,” Rosecrance stated. “We want people to understand that the joy of lasting recovery is possible through treatment and a strong support network.”
Alcoholism and substance use challenges have been brought to light more recently during the COVID-19 pandemic. Studies found that alcohol consumption and mental health challenges increased during COVID-19. People in recovery often need personal connection, so quarantine and social distancing can be difficult for people living with AUD or other substance use disorders. This is especially true if the individual is not participating in virtual support options. Even for individuals not experiencing previous addiction, the pandemic sparked negative coping habits such as binge or excessive drinking.
“Because people living in recovery thrive on personal connection, we worry for those who have not plugged into the many virtual groups that have exploded over the past year,” Rosecrance stated. “We also are concerned for anyone who may develop a substance use disorder as a result of unhealthy coping skills while they navigate pandemic life.”
Help is out there
If you or someone you know might be experiencing AUD, support and professional services are available. Recovery starts with conversation. Therefore, to show support, don’t be afraid of difficult discussions or setting boundaries when needed. When helping a friend, peer or loved one suffering from alcoholism, balancing emotions and maintaining the relationship can be challenging.
“If you can ‘detach with love’ and separate the person from the behaviors, you will be able to maintain the relationship while addressing the very real concerns of addiction,” Rosecrance stated. “The journey to recovery can be a long road, so please take care of yourself first.”
If you need AUD or SUD support, do not hesitate to ask for help or reach out to local resources. Similar to Rosecrance, provider organizations across the country offer prevention and early intervention, 12 Step programs and parent or family groups.
Whether you are the one seeking help or assisting are someone else, make sure you have a trusted friend, counselor or leader who can stand with you through the challenges you face. Consider joining family or parent support groups offered by organizations such as Rosecrance to surround yourself with others walking the same journey.
It doesn’t stop in April
Challenges with alcohol addiction will continue after the awareness month is over, therefore so should the conversations. Alcohol and substance use often carry an unnecessary stigma that prevents individuals from sharing their challenges or asking for help. Rosecrance encourages individuals to not be afraid to bring up the topic of substance use disorder. Because the more they are discussed, the more we push back on the stigma that still exists. Support those who are struggling and celebrate those who are recovering.
“Who knows what might happen if we all are more intentional about discussing substance use disorders?” Rosecrance stated. “Our conversation might be the very nudge a friend or acquaintance needs to seek help.”
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