SAMHSA Alcohol Awareness Month

April is Alcohol Awareness Month

The Great Lakes Current April 2024

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Let’s Not Forget About Alcohol: It’s Still King!

By: Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC

As it pertains to substance use, in recent decades the U.S. government, media, law enforcement, substance use disorders (SUDs) treatment community, and the general public have primarily focused on impacts of cocaine, methamphetamines, prescription drug misuse, and opioid use disorder. Discussions of alcohol use disorders have gone the way of the dinosaur.

In the early days of my 44-year career as a SUDs professional, most of the attention in the treatment community focused on alcohol use disorder (AUD). Back then, detox facilities focused on alcohol withdrawal and thousands of residential alcohol treatment centers were operating throughout the country. Routinely, clients would be discharged from treatment centers and referred to Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Justice-involved individuals under court supervision were often required to attend AA meetings and provide documentation of their attendance. Employee Assistance Programs were known as Alcohol Assistance Programs.

In 1970, the United States Congress passed the Hughes Act, named after Senator Harold Hughes, a person in long-term recovery. This legislation established the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, also known as NIAAA. One of the goals of NIAAA was to reduce the stigma of alcoholism (Kinney, 2020). In 1975, Congress also passed the Uniform Alcoholism and Intoxication Treatment Act, which shifted the view of public intoxication from a crime to a public health crisis (Kinney, 2020). It was in this same decade First Lady Betty Ford publicly announced her AUD.

Today, there is barely a whisper about alcohol misuse. What changed? Seasoned SUD professionals and I weigh in on this question.

Alcohol is considered a socially celebrated drug. It is used to bring in the new year, celebrate birthdays, holidays, anniversaries, weddings, and graduations. Crack, heroin and meth amphetamines are considered socially prohibited drugs. Use of these drugs receive the greatest stigma, ostracism, and legal consequences. Because of the fear factor and cost of incarceration they grab all of the attention.

William White, MS, Historian

I don’t think it’s all that complicated. Politics, movies, the media, and funding have led to a shift of focus to other drugs besides alcohol. Many people don’t even call alcohol a drug anymore.

Bill Green, Author and SUD Consultant/Educator

There are 88,000 alcohol-related deaths in the United States and 81,000 drug overdose deaths. We cannot always draw a straight line from alcohol deaths because the deaths are not always recorded as alcoholism. They are recorded as fatal car accidents, cirrhosis, strokes, heart attacks, all of which can be caused by alcohol use. Opioid overdose on the other hand is usually recorded as opioid overdose.

Jamelia Hand, MHS, SUD Consultant and Educator

Alcohol use disorder has always been a major problem historically and currently. The most influential and wealthy members of society tend to bless what they do and curse what others do. They protect their freedom to drink alcohol while using their power to help assure that people who use drugs like heroin and crack are punished. Thus, these drugs grab all the attention.

Joe Rosenfeld, PhD, CADC, Chair of Addiction Counselor Training Program, Elgin College

In my view, alcohol use destroys individuals slowly like termites eating away the structure of a house. It can gradually impact every organ of the body. Some people can drink alcohol for 20 to 30 years before reaching chronicity. Methamphetamines, crack, fentanyl, and oxycontin destroy quickly like fire. Fire grabs everyone’s attention!

Dr. Carl Hart’s research indicates that it is a mistake to ignore alcohol. In nearly 70% of opioid overdose deaths, alcohol was also present in the body at the time of death (Hart, 2022). In four decades of clinical practice, I have learned that a return to drugs like cocaine and heroin can be triggered by one drink. This drink can lower one’s inhibition and make it easier to return to the drugs they received treatment for. Over the years, I’ve had numerous clients who have given up illicit drugs as a result of being exhausted from hustling to purchase these drugs or tired of going to prison, only to die of complications caused by alcohol misuse.

Those of you who work with younger clients should be particularly concerned with alcohol use. Drinking and driving remains a leading cause of death for adolescents in the U.S. (Kinney, 2020). Emerging adults, particularly on college campuses, have the highest rates of binge drinking in the country (Smith, 2017). There is also a strong link between death by suicide and alcohol use among emerging adults (Smith, 2017).

The early editions of the book Loosening the Grip described alcohol as “King” (Kinney, 2020). Today, millions of people have AUDs, which if unaddressed wreak havoc on individuals, families, and communities. Alcohol use still plays a major role in health-related challenges, overdose, fatal accidents, and other drug related deaths.

 The NIAAA shares these sobering statistics about alcohol-related emergencies and deaths in the United States:

 As we work to improve client services for SUD treatment, let’s not forget about alcohol—not just during April, Alcohol Awareness Month, but all-year round.

See related NIAAA announcement: Alcohol Awareness Month: Raising Awareness about the Dangers of Alcohol Use Among Teens

Access the Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC’s Alcohol Is STILL a Drug series for more information on alcohol-specific considerations shared by professionals throughout Region 5!

References

Hart, C. Drug Use for Grown-Ups(2022). Penguin Books. New York, NY.

Jaffe, I. (2011, July 9). Betty Ford: An advocate and an inspiration. NPR.  

Kinney, J. Loosening the Grip: A Handbook of Alcohol Information (12th edition)(2020). Outskirts Press. Pittsburgh, PA.

Smith, D. Emerging Adults and Substance Use Disorders Treatment(2017). Oxford University Press. Oxford, England.

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Photo of Mark Sanders, LCSW, CADC

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Photo of Mark Sanders, LCSW

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Introducing the Recognizing and Preventing Empathic Distress Workbook

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The Recognizing and Preventing Empathic Distress Workbook

Introducing the Recognizing and Preventing Empathic Distress Workbook

Empathic distress refers to the emotional exhaustion that arises from prolonged exposure to the trauma of others. Constant exposure to others’ pain and suffering can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and can have a significant impact on professionals’ mental health. This can result in a sense of emotional distance, making it difficult to form and maintain meaningful connections. Additionally, helping professionals may struggle with maintaining objectivity and making sound decisions due to the overwhelming empathic distress they experience.

Understanding and addressing the burden of empathic distress is essential for the well-being of the helper and the helped.

Subject matter experts Kris Kelly and Laura Saunders created the Recognizing and Preventing Empathic Distress Workbook to help peer supporters and other helping professionals create a space of growth, self-discovery, and resilience. The workbook includes a facilitator's guide, a participant's guide, and ten learning modules. By incorporating role-plays and practical exercises, this workbook enables helping professionals to practice shifting from empathy to compassion. It also focuses on developing effective coping strategies, promoting resilience, and navigating stress and adversity in a healthy manner.

Facilitator’s Guide

The Facilitator’s Guide provides detailed instructions on leading a group of peer support professionals through a series of interactive sessions. The sessions can be conducted in a live or virtual setting.

Participant's Guide

The Participant's Guide provides step-by-step instructions for participants embarking on this transformative journey.

Ten Modules

Each of the ten 60-minute session modules is designed to help the facilitator and group participants explore the nuances of empathic distress and strategies for recognizing and preventing it. Each module focuses on shared experiences and growth and is designed to be completed in sequence, with skills introduced building on each other.

By the end of the workbook, facilitators and participants will possess both the knowledge and skills to recognize empathic distress and the tools to prevent it.

Resources

Expand the sections below to access the workbook components. Click to view and/or download each resource.

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