7 Lessons to Learn From Alcohol Awareness Month This Year

7 Lessons to Learn From Alcohol Awareness Month

April 2017 embraced Alcohol Awareness Month through a variety of actions that created public awareness. Here are 7 important lessons that can be learned now.

April 2017 marks 30 years since the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to raise public awareness and reduce the stigma of alcoholism and alcohol-related problems. This year's theme, "Connecting the Dots: Opportunities for Recovery," was about the education and prevention of alcoholism—particularly among youth—and the role parents play in helping kids understand the impact of alcohol.

"Alcohol and drug use is a very risky business for young people," NCADD President and CEO Andrew Pucher said. "Parents can make a difference. The longer children delay drinking and drug use, the less likely they are to develop any problems associated with it. That’s why it is so important to help your child connect the dots and make smart decisions about alcohol and drugs."

Alcohol use by youth poses a danger to both themselves and society. More than 23 million people over the age of 12 in the United States are addicted to alcohol and other drugs. It affects countless more when you include, family, friends, and communities.

April has come and gone, but the lessons we take on board during alcohol awareness campaigns remain relevant.

Here are seven things we can learn from Alcohol Awareness Month this year.

1. Underage drinking is getting better

Alcohol is the number one choice of substance use among youth, and excessive drinking leads to 4,300 deaths of underage kids every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. People aged 12-20 drink 11% of all alcohol consumed in the United States, and 90% of this is done via binge drinking.

But there are signs alcohol use by youth is on the decline.

A survey by Monitoring the Future found that in 2016 only 7% of students in Grade 8, 20% in Grade 10 and 33% in Grade 12 had consumed alcohol within the past 30 days. All figures are down from the previous year.

Binge drinking is also down, with 3% of 8th graders, 10% of 10th graders and 16% of 12th graders reporting excessive drinking.

2. Effects on health and social life

The impact drinking can have on underage kids is wide-ranging. Its effects are potentially both physical and mental. Sometimes the result can be fatal.

Car accidents are the leading cause of death among adolescents. Getting behind the wheel after a night of drinking are of primary concern. For the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2015, 8% of high school students confessed to drinking and driving, while 20% admitted to getting in a car with a driver that had been drinking.

There's a long list of other hazards due to underage drinking, which may include:

  • Problems at school, such as high absence rates and poor grades
  • Social problems, such as fighting and lack of participation in group activities
  • Legal problems, such as driving or physically hurting someone while drunk
  • Physical problems, such as hangovers or illnesses
  • Disruption of normal growth and sexual development
  • Increased risk of suicide
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects
  • Death from alcohol poisoning

Those who begin drinking before the age of 15 are six times more likely to develop alcohol dependency compared to those who wait until they are of legal age. That's why it's important to try delaying exposure to drinking.

3. Tips for talking to kids

So, as a parent, how do you talk to your kids about drinking?

It's never too early to start, and you'll have more of an impact if you reach them before it becomes a problem than afterward. Research has shown kids who talk to their parents about drugs and alcohol are 50% less likely to become users.

Here are a few tips to help you out:

  • Listen before you speak, encourage conversation
  • Talk to your child about their feelings, ask open-ended questions
  • Be involved in your child's life, all the while educating them on good physical and mental health
  • Set expectations and limits, discuss consequences both legal and medical
  • Be honest and open, show you care about the trials and tribulations they face
  • Build bridges rather than walls, and be positive
  • Discuss family history, addiction may be linked to genetics

The more informed children are, the better off they'll be when they encounter alcohol.

4. Warning signs for parents

Are you worried it might be too late and your child might be abusing alcohol? The following are behavioral signs to look out for.

  • Playing hooky, declining grades and getting in trouble at school
  • Drop in performance at work, decreased motivation
  • Complaints from co-workers, supervisors, teachers or classmates
  • Missing money, valuables, or borrowing and stealing money
  • Sudden change in friends, favorite hangouts, and activities
  • Frequently getting into arguments, fights, and accidents
  • Using eyedrops to mask bloodshot eyes

There are also a few psychological warning signs:

  • Sudden change in personality and attitude
  • Mood swings, irritability, and outbursts
  • Periods of unusual hyperactivity or agitation
  • Inability to focus
  • Appearing fearful, withdrawn, anxious or paranoid

Keep in mind that adolescence is a time of great change for young people. The changes described above could simply be your child adjusting. But it always pays to know what to keep an eye out for.

5. How much is too much?

Binge drinking might mean less alcohol consumption than you would have guessed. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines binge drinking, typically, as four drinks for a woman and five drinks for a man in a span of two hours.

Most binge drinkers aren't alcohol dependent, but there are still health risks involved, including:

  • Unintentional injuries from car accidents and falls
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Children born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
  • High blood pressure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases
  • Liver disease
  • Neurological damage
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Poor control of diabetes

Men are also twice as likely to binge drink than women.

6. Alcohol-Free Weekend

One of the biggest promotions by the NCADD for Alcohol Awareness Month is Alcohol-Free Weekend. It's scheduled for the first weekend of April, although anybody who wants to participate can do so at any time.

Those who partake are asked not to consume alcohol for three days. The activity is designed to show people that it's possible to have fun while sober and exercise restraint.

People or families who experience difficulty during this time are encouraged to seek help immediately to learn more about alcoholism and its symptoms.

7. It's never too late to begin recovery

If you have a problem with alcohol, know there's no due date to begin recovery. It doesn't matter if you're young or old, it's possible to live a happier and healthier life. That's what alcohol awareness is all about.

The journey to sober living begins with a single step, but at the end of the road, you may find you're able to live a more normal life.

It's worth it, and it's something you can be proud of and show others.