Catch the Cue
It seems like such a trend in our society to have a theme or holiday each month. Even if you look at things on a daily level, there are usually special events or holidays that take place every day around our nation. Was everyone aware that National Pizza Day is February 9th?! There are a lot of reasons to celebrate and bring awareness into our society. Being able to focus on one topic for a day, or even better a whole month, is an subtle cue of community in our world; a time to share knowledge, experience, and pay tribute to the specific theme at hand. Fortunately for us, April is National Alcohol Awareness Month! You may be thinking to yourself, “Okay, I understand what alcohol is, why do we need a whole month recognizing what it’s all about?” Well, when we think about alcohol in terms of how it interacts with our society, relationships, health, and processing—we would probably still be talking beyond the month of April.
So how did Alcohol Awareness month come about? The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD—Now also called, Facing Addiction with NCADD) founded and recognized the month of April, as a time for everyone in America to come together and increase awareness and foster understanding of alcohol dependency and addiction. The monthly recognition started back in 1987, as more and more research was surfacing around alcohol addiction, and the effects it can have on our lives. Something that is really cool about Alcohol Awareness Month is that each year there is a theme that is directly related to the topic. This can be a difficult topic to talk about! I’m sure if we really sat down and thought about it, we could all think of at least one person in our lives that we knew or were close to that has been affected negatively by alcohol. Having a theme for the month gives people a place to start when talking about alcohol addiction, and opens the door for exploration. This year, the theme is “Help for Today, Hope for Tomorrow.” Super powerful, right? I’m not sure if this was a shared sentiment while reading, but the words help and hope stuck out the most for me. The idea behind this year’s theme is to help each other in raising awareness about how detrimental alcohol addiction can be in our lives, and to hope for a better understanding of what it is in order to actively reduce and prevent it. It goes back to the old adage of knowledge is power—The more we know, the more we can do to help each other.
How do we know?
So what does alcohol addiction look like? How does it show up in our environment and world? Well, according to the NCADD, “One in every 12 adults, or 17.6 million people, suffers from alcohol use disorder or alcohol dependence.” One in every twelve! That’s a lot of people, y’all. I’m sure we all can agree drinking is a staple activity in our society, which can provoke a lot of anxiety for those who do struggle with this dependency. It’s hard to go anywhere that doesn’t have a drink menu, or an option to drink. It surrounds us in bowling alleys, movie theatres, theme parks, sporting events, concert venues…the list could go on for days. Drinking is everywhere. While the definition of alcohol addiction can vary based on how severe the situation is, The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) explain that it entails: strong cravings, not being able to cut back drinking/increase in drinking, experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping, continuing to drink even when recognizing it may be a problem, etc. These are symptoms that are usually happening long-term, and can be gradually built upon, as they become more of an issue for the person experiencing them. This can be tricky to notice because a large factor in addiction is denial. When shame is involved in the drinking patterns, we naturally want to find a way to stop feeling it because it is painful. As a result, people end up in a negative cycle of denying the pattern of drinking, and then using it as a way to cope or deal with the pain that is associated. It’s important to know that there are ways to break the cycle, and to create healthy habits instead. Recovery agencies, individual counseling, and support groups like AA are great ways to get involved in healing. Alcohol may be strong, but we are stronger.
Society and Alcohol
Sometimes it feels like there is nothing to do besides drink when we want to forget the hardships we are experiencing. I’m sure we have all heard the term ‘blackout’ when talking about drinking. Alcohol has the ability to make you forget the past, and the present. So often people find themselves drinking to cover the stress of a long day at work, or a problem that keeps coming up at home, or maybe to forget a fight we had with a loved one. How often do we see in our culture people drinking to relieve stress and let go? I would say that it can be pretty noticeable when we think about the concept of things like “happy hour,” which is set up to give those of age a place to drink and unwind after a long day at work, usually between the hours of 3-6. The timing is specific in this! A majority of Americans work a nine-hour shift that ends anywhere in that happy hour range. The more we look at how our society is set up, the more we can see that drinking is so casually apparent that it seems difficult to not find yourself over-drinking or becoming attached to the behavior. As we talked about in the negative cycle of addiction, drinking can easily become a thing that we do to cover up pain, stress, low self-esteem, or anything that’s too hard to feel.
One of the main components of Alcohol Awareness Month is that it encourages an Alcohol Free Weekend, which is usually the first weekend of April. This year, it is April 5-7. The idea is to try your best, or to completely refrain, from drinking alcohol as a way to show support to those struggling, and to provide a model of hope to those struggling. During this weekend (and every weekend this month), it is encouraged to spread awareness to those around you about what alcohol addiction may look like, how it can show up, and what steps can be taken to help with alcohol dependency in your community. Take advantage of nature and the nice weather, meet a friend for lunch or coffee, do something creative in your safe spaces like drawing or painting—finding a hobby that is separate from alcohol can be helpful! Local colleges, churches, and recovery agencies can be found showing support during these events if you’re looking for ways to be involved in the cause! Many counselors in the field are trained specifically on this topic, and would most likely be more than willing to discuss or provide information on trends and patterns that relate to alcohol addiction. We are always here for you!
Loved Ones are Impacted, too.
So what can this month teach us about ‘helping for today, and hoping for tomorrow?’ What if you aren’t someone that is struggling with alcohol addiction, but are affected by someone who is? No matter who you are, there are tons of resources available for anyone involved in this painful situation. Many of us forget that while the person experiencing alcohol dependency is in pain, more likely than not those around them like their family, partners, support system, etc. are too. Support groups like Al-Anon, Al-Ateen, or Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACOA) are a safe and engaging space to process your experience. They are free, and are usually open to anyone looking for a community setting. This is a great way to feel a sense of support and understand that there are others out there that may be feeling the same way you are. This goes for saying with groups like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), as well. Alcoholism can be so isolating. Finding a sense of community in the darkness of addiction can be a validating and encouraging part of healing.
Show Your Support
As we’ve talked about before, this can be a hard topic to talk about! There is a negative stigma that our society has placed on addiction. We look to TV shows and movies to guide us on how to react to addictive behavior (Anyone seen the show Shameless? Frank Gallagher, is a classic example people reference when I talk with them about alcoholic tendencies!). During the month of April, try to challenge yourself when thinking about how we view addiction as a society. Many who struggle with alcohol addiction also have depression, relationship troubles, anxiety, or another related issue. There are so many wonderful ways to get involved and spread a caring and kind message to those who are lost within their addiction. Garnering a sense of hope is important, and may give way for us all to live a better tomorrow. This epidemic starts and ends with constant education, and the more we know, the better we know how to respond to it! Happy Alcohol Awareness Month, fellow readers!
Emily is currently in her final year of the Master of Education in Counseling at Stephens College, here in Columbia. She is active in the student led Stephens Counseling Association, and is also a part of the American Counseling Association (ACA). Prior to graduate school, Emily received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology at the University of Missouri (Columbia). Emily enjoys working with both adolescents and adults as they process their growth through counseling. She collaborates best with individuals looking to embrace their true identity, find their inner confidence, recognize innate strengths, and find a way to effectively cope with transitions, depression, and anxiety. Emily is eager to experience and train for working with couples and families, a scope of her practice that will have a clear advantage based on her early childhood education experience.