Alcohol Awareness month aims to educate, not point fingers

HANCOCK — Alcohol is such a staple in American culture that many citizens may not realize the USA has a bustling drinking culture, states the Florida Center For Recovery.

“An aisle of alcohol sits parallel to the frozen food section,” the FCR website states. “An entire liquor store is built into the local grocery at times. Americans have a choice between ladies’ nights, happy hours, and bottomless brunches.”

Alcoholic beverages have subtly slipped their way into every aspect of American culture, the website states, adding that there are currently 57,625 bars and nightclubs in the U.S. This does not include all of the restaurants and facilities that serve alcohol.

The significance of Alcohol Awareness Month is simply to raise people’s awareness of the drug’s prominence in American culture, and the surroundings in which people find it.

“Alcohol Awareness Month is intended to help people who may be struggling with their use of alcohol; to be aware of resources and ways to get help,” said Gail Ploe, Healthy Connections project director at the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department. “But it’s also public education, so people have some understanding of what social drinking is, because, if you’re with people who have a six-pack every night, that seems normal to you and that seems like social drinking.”

Ploe said that the American Medical Association (AMA) states that for men, two drinks per day for a total of 60 is safe for men, while one drink per day for a total of 30 per month is safe for women. Any number over those are considered heavy drinking, something supported by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The reason for these limits is because alcohol is a toxic substance and more than the recommended limit at one time can have negative impacts on health and the body’s organs. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIH) reports that alcohol is highly diffusible through cell membranes and is metabolized by most tissues. Its toxicity affects most organs, particularly the liver. Heavy drinking takes a toll on the liver, and can lead to a variety of problems and liver inflammations including Steatosis, or fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, Fibrosis and Cirrhosis. Alcohol causes the pancreas to produce toxic substances that can eventually lead to pancreatitis, a dangerous inflammation and swelling of the blood vessels in the pancreas that prevents proper digestion. The NIH goes on to report that drinking a lot over a long time — or too much on a single occasion — can damage the heart, causing problems including Cardiomyopathy (Stretching and drooping of heart muscle), Arrhythmias (Irregular heartbeat), stroke and high blood pressure.

“So, when we look at alcohol use in our community,” Ploe said, “people will always say to me: ‘well can I save them up? Can I drink my 30 over three days?’ ‘Can I have my beers over one weekend; Friday and Saturday?'”

Ploe said that under the guidelines of the AMA, that type of planning does not work. While two drinks per day for a man, and one drink per day for a woman are considered safe, five drinks or more in one sitting is considered binge drinking. That could be an indication of a drinking problem, because of the planning involved to be able to drink to access.

“Some people think ‘I don’t binge drink,’ because they might consider that a 12-pack,” said Ploe. “I mean, for the vast majority of people, they can use alcohol responsibly. They really can, and then they drink socially. But then, there is this small amount that actually meet the DSM-5 criteria for Substance Use Disorder – Alcohol.”

The DSM-5 is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition. It is the handbook used by healthcare professionals in the United States and much of the world as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders.The DSM 5 recognizes substance-related disorders resulting from the use of 10 separate classes of drugs: alcohol; caffeine; cannabis; hallucinogens (phencyclidine or similarly acting arylcyclohexylamines, and other hallucinogens, such as LSD); inhalants; opioids; sedatives, hypnotics, or anxiolytics; stimulants (including amphetamine-type substances, cocaine, and other stimulants); tobacco; and other or unknown substances.

“So, Alcohol Awareness Month,” Ploe said, “is to literally raise awareness to people who might be struggling and need some resources and help, and raising public education and understanding what is heavy drinking — just being aware of what we do with alcohol and being just a matter of our community taking a look at alcohol.”


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