April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and its goal is to educate the public and increase awareness around alcohol use while reducing stigma and promoting recovery. This is a good time to become more aware of the role alcohol plays in your life and the lives of those you care about.
Have you ever wondered if alcohol is a problem for you? Have you ever tried to stop or cut down on drinking and found it difficult? Have you ever started drinking and had a hard time stopping even though you told yourself you would “only have a few?”
It’s not always easy to tell when your alcohol consumption crosses the line from social or moderate to problem drinking, especially because alcohol use is so common and socially acceptable in most of the U.S. and Canada. Over 70 percent of U.S. adults and 75 percent of Canadians age 15 and over reported drinking alcohol at least once in the last year. With these numbers, it’s likely that almost everyone you know also drinks, and that some of these same people consume as much or more alcohol than you do. It’s tempting to conclude that your level of alcohol use can’t be a problem if it’s less than those around you, but that may not be the case.
A quick and simple four question assessment called the CAGE questionnaire can help you assess if you might have a drinking problem. It’s important to answer all four questions and answer them truthfully. Your results aren’t a diagnosis (only a licensed professional can do that), but are intended to create awareness about your alcohol use.
The CAGE acronym comes from the bold phrases in the questions below:
- Have you ever felt you needed to Cut down on your drinking?
- Have people Annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?
- Have you ever felt Guilty about drinking?
- Have you ever felt you needed a drink first thing in the morning (Eye-opener) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?
Responses are scored 0 for “no” and 1 for “yes.” If you answered “yes” to two or more questions, it’s suggested that you speak with your doctor about additional assessment options and possible next steps.
While the CAGE questionnaire is only four very simple questions, it’s incredibly effective at revealing problem drinking. While some people manage and have control over their alcohol use, this can be very difficult for others.
An important part of Alcohol Awareness Month is choosing an alcohol-free weekend during the month of April. The goal is to stop drinking from Friday through Monday, then gauge the effect of those alcohol-free days. For example, how did your body respond without alcohol for 72 hours? Did you experience any physical effects, such as sweating, headaches or trouble sleeping?
Some people may find that trying to go 72 hours without alcohol is much more difficult than they expected. If it’s difficult to manage 72 hours without drinking or if you’re unable to make it through the three days without picking up a drink, that struggle could signal a dependence on alcohol that should be more closely examined.
Alcohol is a powerful and highly addictive drug. Some people become physically and psychologically dependent on alcohol and are unable to stop using it without help. If you found an alcohol free-weekend tough to complete, then talk with your doctor. Other ways to get help include talking with a mental health professional or seeking help from a support group like Alcoholics Anonymous or a similar self-help group.
Growth and change often means extending outside our comfort zone and pushing ourselves. The idea of getting help may seem scary, stressful and overwhelming. However, the benefits of making this decision will pay off in the long run.
SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) is a free, confidential, 24/7/365, treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for people facing mental and substance use disorders.
Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator is a confidential and anonymous source of information on available treatment facilities in the U.S. and U.S. territories.
[Jamie Becker is the LHSFNA’s Director of Health Promotion.]