Every April, many communities observe Alcohol Awareness Month, an annual initiative for raising awareness about alcohol consumption and alcohol use disorder (AUD).

This month serves as a reminder of the importance of understanding alcohol use in general, the potential risks associated with its misuse, and the need for comprehensive education and prevention strategies.

Let’s dive into what Alcohol Awareness Month is and how you can help spread the word to help people with AUD access the support they need.

The Importance of Alcohol Awareness Month

Established in 1987 by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD), Alcohol Awareness Month is a vital period for communities to reflect on the impact of alcohol on individuals, families, and communities across the U.S.

The primary goal of Alcohol Awareness Month is to reduce the stigma associated with alcoholism, making it easier for individuals struggling with this disease to seek help and support.

Alcoholism is often shrouded in misunderstanding and judgment, which can hinder individuals’ willingness to admit they have a problem and delay their path to recovery.

By encouraging communities to reach out to the public with information about alcohol use disorder, we foster a more compassionate and informed approach to the condition, helping people understand treatment and seek support without fear of judgment.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical condition that causes people to lose the ability to control or stop alcohol use despite its health consequences and the ways it affects their lives, work, and relationships.

Rather than a condition that affects everyone the same, it’s more beneficial to see AUD as a spectrum of symptoms ranging from mild to severe, getting worse the more the individual drinks and the longer it goes on.

People with AUD experience significant changes in the brain’s structure and function, leading to intense alcohol cravings, loss of control over its use, and a negative emotional state when not drinking.

Criteria for Diagnosing Alcohol Use Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), explains the criteria for diagnosing AUD. According to the DSM-5, someone has AUD if they show at least two of the following 11 symptoms within 12 months:

  1. Drinking more or longer than intended.
  2. Persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control alcohol use.
  3. Spending a great deal of time obtaining, using, or recovering from alcohol.
  4. Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use alcohol.
  5. Recurrent alcohol use, failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  6. Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol.
  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of alcohol use.
  8. Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  9. Alcohol use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by alcohol.
  10. Tolerance is defined by either a need for markedly increased amounts of alcohol to achieve intoxication or the desired effect or a markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of alcohol.
  11. Withdrawal, as manifested by either the characteristic withdrawal syndrome for alcohol or alcohol (or a closely related substance), is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms.

How Common Is Alcohol Use Disorder?

AUD is the most common substance use disorder in the U.S., with 29.5 million people ages 12 and older experiencing AUD in the past year, according to the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).

That’s approximately 10.5% of all people 12 and older, or 1 out of 10.

This high prevalence has a profound impact on society, contributing to many health issues, including liver disease, cardiovascular problems, and mental health disorders. It also poses significant risks to public safety, such as alcohol-impaired driving and accidents.

The economic cost of AUD is also massive, including healthcare costs, lost productivity, and legal expenses from alcohol-driven accidents.

How to Participate in Alcohol Awareness Month

Here are a few ways to participate in Alcohol Awareness Month:

  • Share on social media. SAMHSA has a social media toolkit with copies and images to share to spread the word and direct others to essential resources.
  • Wear a red ribbon. The red ribbon symbolizes the initiative, and wearing one shows your support.
  • Evaluate your relationship with alcohol. Consider tracking your alcohol consumption throughout the month and evaluating whether you need to adjust your intake.
  • Have alcohol-free gatherings. Make an effort to limit alcohol during social gatherings. Go for non-alcoholic drinks instead, such as mocktails.
  • Attend support group meetings or accompany a loved one. If you or a loved one struggles with alcohol use, consider attending a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous. You won’t be forced to participate by speaking; it can be an excellent first step toward recovery.
  • Seek help for yourself or a loved one. If you believe you or a loved one meet any criteria for AUD, contact local resources.
  • Volunteer. Look for a non-profit organization that helps people recover from AUD and volunteer. They’re always looking for new people, and there’s always something you can do.

Alcohol Awareness Month Helps People Seek Treatment

Alcohol Awareness Month helps educate the public on alcohol use disorder (AUD), advocating for people who experience it and supporting them in navigating the challenges of recovery. Together, we can spread the word and foster more compassion for people with AUD.

If you or a loved one have an AUD diagnosis or struggle to control alcohol use without a diagnosis, we urge you to seek help. Remember that help is available and recovery is possible.

Various resources, from counseling and support groups to treatment programs, are designed to assist in the path to sobriety and wellness.

Use them to lay the foundation for a healthier and sober future.