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Alcohol Awareness Month: Get Educated

Cheryl Lathrop

Last updated: October 20, 2016 7:28 pm

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April is Alcohol Awareness Month. It’s sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) to increase public awareness and understanding of alcoholism. Hopefully, this awareness helps reduce the stigma of having alcoholism and encourages local communities to focus on alcohol-related issues.

This theme for this 29th year of awareness is “For the Health of It: Early Education on Alcoholism and Addiction.” Local NCADD affiliates, schools, colleges, churches and other community organizations are sponsoring activities to create awareness of alcoholism and encourage individuals and families to get help for alcohol-related problems.

An estimated 18 million Americans have an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol problems cost the U.S. $224 billion in 2006 in lost productivity, health care, and property damage. 1 During this month, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), encourages us all to dedicate ourselves to:

  • Understanding how excessive drinking can affect health
  • Evaluating our own drinking habits
  • Discovering the latest developments in treatments for alcohol use disorders

Alcoholism and Adolescents

Alcohol is the number one drug of choice for America’s youth, and is more likely to kill young people than all illegal drugs combined. Alcohol use by young people is directly associated with traffic fatalities, violence, suicide, alcohol overdose, unsafe sex, academic failure in school and other problem behaviors.

Adolescents may not know or want to acknowledge all the consequences of drinking alcohol. For some, alcoholism and addiction develop at a young age; intervention, treatment and recovery support are essential for them and their families. 2

Alcoholism and Pregnancy

Alcohol can present significant problems for pregnant women, especially in the form of fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS).

A baby in the womb doesn’t have a fully developed liver that can process alcohol, so alcohol can damage a baby’s organs. Even just one glass of wine passes from a mother to a developing baby.

The National Organization on Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (NOFAS) recommends: “Alcohol and Pregnancy. No safe amount. No safe time. No safe alcohol. Period.” 3

In the U.S. FAS is one of the leading causes of birth defects and is thought to be the most common cause of preventable mental retardation.

FAS is a group of signs and symptoms appearing together — birth defects that result from a woman’s use of alcohol during her pregnancy. 4 Symptoms can include:

  • Problems with the heart, kidney and bones
  • Learning disabilities and low IQ
  • Trouble with memory, coordination and attention
  • Hyperactivity
  • Problems with sleep and suckling as an infant

Alcoholism and Antidepressants

Alcohol is especially dangerous if taken in conjunction with medications, either prescription or nonprescription. Alcohol and antidepressants, a common treatment for depression, especially don’t mix well.

Manufacturers of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Zoloft (sertraline) and Paxil (paroxetine) warn users against consuming alcohol when taking the antidepressant.

The Zoloft Prescribing Information says: “use of ZOLOFT and alcohol is not advised.” 5

The Paxil Prescribing Information says: “patients should be advised to avoid alcohol while taking PAXIL.” 6

Pregnant women who are experiencing depression need to be especially careful. In addition to the risks associated with alcohol, antidepressants may cause neonatal persistent pulmonary hypertension (PPHN) in infants when a mother ingests these medications during pregnancy.

PPHN, a condition in which a baby has such high blood pressure in its lungs it cannot provide sufficient oxygen to the rest of its body, can cause potentially long-term and life-threatening neurological and pulmonary conditions.

Preventing Alcoholism

So, what can you do during Alcohol Awareness Month? Spread the word!

Wondering if you have problems with alcohol? Take this 26-question quiz. 7 If you need help immediately, call 800-622-2255 or go to NCADD and enter your zip code to find an NCADD affiliate. 8

  1. “NIAAA Recognizes Alcohol Awareness Month 2014.” http://www.nih.gov/news/health/apr2014/niaaa-07.htm. Accessed March 1, 2015. 

  2. “April 2015 Marks 29th Alcohol Awareness Month.” https://ncadd.org/in-the-news/1419-april-2015-marks-29th-alcohol-awareness-month. Accessed March, 1, 2015. 

  3. NOFAS. http://www.nofas.org/. Accessed March 1, 2015. 

  4. “Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.” http://www.webmd.com/baby/fetal-alcohol-syndrome. Accessed March 1, 2015. 

  5. Zoloft, Prescribing Information: http://labeling.pfizer.com/ShowLabeling.aspx?id=517#page=1. Accessed March 1, 2015. 

  6. Paxil, Prescribing Information. http://www.fda.gov/ohrms/dockets/ac/04/briefing/4006B1_08_Paxil-Label.pdf. Accessed March 1, 2015. 

  7. “Am I Alcoholic?” https://ncadd.org/learn-about-alcohol/alcohol-abuse-self-test. Accessed March 1, 2015. 

  8. “Welcome to NCADD.” https://ncadd.org/. Accessed March 1, 2015.