Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month is the United States of America and was founded by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD).

Alcohol Awareness Month provides a focused opportunity to increase awareness and understanding of alcohol addiction, its causes, effective treatment, and recovery.  It is an opportunity to decrease stigma and misunderstandings in order to dismantle the barriers to treatment and recovery, and therefore make seeking help more readily available to those who suffer from this disease. The theme for this year’s awareness month is “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow”.

Alcohol addiction is a chronic, progressive disease, genetically predisposed and fatal if untreated. However, people can and do recover. It is in fact estimated that as many as 20 million individuals and family members are living lives in recovery from alcohol misuse.

How do we increase alcohol awareness?

In school-aged children, alcohol and other drug education programs are usually focused on developing resilience and good decision-making skills. The aim is to delay alcohol use and prevent the use of illicit drugs. Some programmes are also targeted at parents with education on how to role model responsible drinking behaviours, and guide parents on how to talk to their children about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. 

The Department of Education in the United States has a number of age appropriate programmes which are delivered by teachers to children in high school and primary school about the harm associated with alcohol and other drug use. 

In school-aged children, drug education is focused on broad drug awareness messages, rather than on specific substances

Once people are of legal drinking age (21 years in the US), alcohol education programs focus on: 

  • responsible drinking behaviour
  • promoting healthier cultural approaches to alcohol.

Programmes may also encourage people to reduce the amount of alcohol they consume on a regular basis to reduce the chance of alcohol dependence and longer-term health problems. 

Awareness in adult age persons is focused on educating about the effects of alcohol on cognitive functioning and the resulting risky behaviours as well as long term physical effects.

The effects of alcohol on behavior and decision-making

One of the programmes found to be most effective in increasing awareness in the US is AlcoholEdu. It is an online program introduced in 2006 to educate freshmen about alcohol consumption, and has received continued funding, thanks to survey findings that suggest it works at Stanford University.

The results show that 71 percent of respondents found the program at least somewhat effective, and 77 percent acknowledged they learned something.

Among the other results:

49 percent of respondents said the material better prepared them to deal with alcohol at Stanford.

32 percent said the program changed their attitudes about alcohol.

45 percent acknowledged thinking about information gleaned from AlcoholEdu before a night of drinking.

64 percent would recommend the program for use with other incoming freshmen.

41 percent said information from AlcoholEdu led them to behave more responsibly with alcohol.

The survey suggests the double-barreled success of reduction in alcohol use and reduction in consequences as a result of alcohol abuse.

“The most significant thing I took from this is that about 70 percent say it is effective, at least somewhat,” said Castro (programme administrator). “Even if that number were only, say, 50 percent, in any dorm a resident fellow would tell you that if 50 percent of the students feel better prepared to deal with alcohol, that’s a big number. It’s important to interpret the results through that lens.”

Castro also collaborated with graduate student Somik Raha, who has been researching decision-making models based on institutional values, to evaluate AlcoholEdu on a more quantitative basis. They weighed the $18,000 annual cost of the program against the cost of such factors as emergency room trips due to alcohol poisoning, police personnel time to respond to drinking emergencies (annual trips to the emergency room for alcohol poisoning have dropped at Stanford from 119 in 2004-05 to an average of about 60 per year over the past several years, time of residence deans dealing with alcohol crises and the cost of missed classes. The results consistently showed that AlcoholEdu more than pays for itself.

Armed with both sets of data and a strong recommendation from Stanford’s Alcohol Advisory Board, Castro successfully approached Risk Management to garner support for the program’s continuation.

AlcoholEdu, is widely used by colleges and universities nationwide. At Stanford, the program is mandatory for incoming freshmen. About 99 percent complete the three-hour program before arriving on campus. The national average, by comparison, is 86 percent. The program, one part of a larger substance abuse educational effort at Stanford, takes a harm-reduction approach to drinking by promoting education.

Numbers from the study are suggestive of the prevalence of “pre-gaming,” which involves drinking excessive amounts of hard liquor quickly in the early evening – generally via shots – to sustain the effects while attending gatherings at which access to alcohol is regulated.

Worldwide we need to initiate programs to better educate students about the dangers of binge drinking and its ramifications for potential academic achievement. Part of that effort will involve drawing parents into a closer partnership with the university and the education of their children. National studies show, he said, that parents who give their children clear messages about drinking behaviors in a warm and understanding way can diminish the likelihood of dangerous drinking in the future.

As shown by many studies in the US and elsewhere, incorporating alcohol awareness and education from a young age whether in the school or at home, significantly impacts the attitudes, beliefs and practices of children toward alcohol as well as other substances with the potential of misuse, when they reach adolescence and further, begin their tertiary education.

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