It’s Alcohol Awareness Month – But What Does That Mean to Me?

alcohol-awareness-monthEven if we don’t drink, or don’t drink to excess, we live in an alcohol-soaked society. The stuff permeates our lives.

One obvious example is drunk driving, which has affected two out of three people in America. Some have had a friend or relative killed or injured by an impaired driving. Others have themselves been injured, or possibly just have had a fender damaged or a headlight broken.

And still others have a friend or loved one who has been arrested for the crime, and who is dealing with the long and torturous aftermath of a DUI conviction: the fines, imprisonment, and the many other costs, both financial and personal. People take years to put the effects behind them, and some never do.

Alcohol Awareness Month, which began on the first of April, was conceived as a time to take stock of all the ways that alcohol affects society. The aim is to reduce the stigma of alcoholism and encourage more people to focus on alcoholism and the issues that surround it.

The issue that looms large in the literature by treatment professionals is addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as “a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug [e.g. alcohol] seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.”

Despite the evidence that alcoholism is a brain disease, the courts and law enforcement personnel are often inclined to think of repeat drunk driving – which is often the result of alcoholism – as a choice. The preferred treatment is punishment.

Some enlightened governments emphasize the treatment aspect of the response to drunk driving – Michigan’s sobriety court is a good example – but the initial reaction by too many people is that drinking is the result of a failure of character, and punishment is all that is needed to set things right.

Currently 25 states have moved beyond this old model. That is the number of states which mandate ignition interlocks for all DUI offenses. An ignition interlock, or car breathalyzer, prevents a vehicle from starting if the driver has been drinking.

Requiring an ignition interlock acknowledges that people dependent on alcohol will drink and drive unless they are prevented from doing so. It does not treat the disease, or excuse the crime – it merely protects the public, which is what the devices were designed to do. Once public safety is addressed, the state should mandate treatment and counseling.

Part of Alcohol Awareness Month is centered around prevention, and the young years are where prevention starts. The National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Addiction (NCADD) offers guidance for parents and others to talk to young people about alcohol use. Early influence can help prevent a teen from the risky experimentation that leads to alcoholism.

There’s no cure for alcoholism, and alcohol will always have an influence – not always a bad one, necessarily – in our lives. It’s up to use to do what we can to keep that influence under control:

  • Ignition interlocks to prevent DUI offenders from getting behind the wheel
  • Treatment and counseling to help DUI offenders turn their lives around
  • Early education to keep young people from developing a dependence on alcohol

Keeping us all safe: even if you don’t drink, that’s what Alcohol Awareness Month means.