Alcohol Awareness Month is not aimed at alcoholics.
During April, events have been organized all over the country for anyone who may have questions about their personal alcohol consumption and how it affects them.
Last year, on the National Alcohol Screening Day, Ryan Travia, director of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Services, targeted Harvard University student athletes-20 percent of the student population and a high-risk group. This year, Travia said they're expecting 1,200 students, and not just athletes, during the eight-hour event, which will take place toward the end of the month.
To attract students, Travia said they offer customized durable plastic bottles printed with statistics and facts about alcohol use among Harvard students and filled with prizes.
The university has also introduced a mandatory online course to educate entering freshman about alcohol consumption.
However, Travia said he's noticed that the majority of students score negative on the screening exam.
"Many of them come and receive affirmation about their habits," he said. "Many of them come for partners and friends."
National Alcohol Screening Day, although officially on April 5, is taking place at several screening sites around the country throughout the month. All screenings are confidential, and it takes only 10 minutes in order to complete the questionnaire. Organized by Screening for Mental Health, Inc., sites include hospitals, community centers and colleges.
"What I like about it is it's not just informational, but people get personalized information about their own habits," said Dr. Chris Correia, assistant professor of psychology at Auburn University in Alabama. "I think students appreciate the opportunity to get some quick and confidential feedback."
Correia, who has overseen the event for the past five years, said it started at Auburn even before he arrived and is fairly well accepted, offering the incentive of extra credit in classes.
"Basically, what we do is try to cast a pretty wide net and attract people who wouldn't necessarily identify themselves as problem drinkers," he said, adding that alcoholism should be treated as a public health problem. "Whether you look at national data or whether you look at data that are specific to college students, we know that alcohol abuse is a significant problem in this country, especially on college campuses."
Alcoholism, or alcohol dependence, is characterized by strong cravings, loss of control, physical dependence and tolerance. On average, women drink less than men, but are more likely than their male counterparts to experience adverse effects, such as violence, damage to heart muscles and liver or death.
In 2003, almost 23 percent of Americans participated in binge drinking within 30 days prior to taking SAMHSA's National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). That translates into an estimated 54 million binge drinkers nationwide. The same year, approximately 21.6 million adults abused alcohol or were alcohol dependent.
And although surveys show that heavy drinking can peak during the college years, the Bucks County Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (BCCADD), in Doylestown, Pa., has participated in National Alcohol Screening Day for the past three years, setting up screening and information sites at local community colleges and centers and even senior citizens homes.
"We're trying to keep people from being injured, hurt and having negative outcomes from drinking," said Melanie Swanson, prevention specialist for BCCADD. "We're not really trying to diagnose anybody. It's really about getting information out to people so they can make healthier choices."
Sharon Donnelly, counseling coordinator for Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, has worked with Swanson on several school events intended to inform students about alcohol and drugs, in what Donnelly described as a comfortable environment due to Swanson's ability to be discreet, candid and approachable.
"I think what was good for the students was that they walked away with more knowledge than they initially had," Donnelly said. "They really walked away feeling good about themselves."
This year the BCCADD will conduct screenings in 30 sites, including three in Philadelphia.
"We're trying to remove the stigma of alcoholism. Social drinking is socially accepted—generally—but if someone is beyond that, they might be hesitant to ask for help," Swanson said.
She believes attention should be focused on the elderly because their bodies process alcohol differently and there are possible interactions with the medications they take. That is why it is important not to focus solely on people who may be considered alcoholics, but to reach as many people as possible.
"That's something they try to let people know—alcoholism is a disease. It's not something to be ashamed of," Swanson said. "This is something that should be checked, like getting screened for cholesterol."
Correia said he also thinks a comprehensive approach would be beneficial.
"I certainly do agree that we can focus on the potential health effects of alcohol on all groups and not just college students, so whatever age group you're looking at—college students, older people and everyone in between—(it's not) you're either an alcoholic or you're not," Correia said.
That is why Correia said he is in favor of interventions that link habits to outcomes, such as examining a student's alcohol consumption along with his or her grades or performance in other activities.
"Anything you can do to make sure this doesn't become a longstanding problem is worth while," he said.
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Content Last Modified: 4/23/2007 3:21:00 PM