National Alcohol Awareness Month turns 35 this April, offering an opportunity to reflect on the role alcohol plays in your life.
BY JACLYN TROP
Thirty-five years after the federal government created a public health campaign to raise awareness of a growing epidemic of alcoholism in the U.S., the problem became more pronounced, especially among women, during the pandemic. Figures from Nielsen report na-tional alcohol sales surged 54% in March 2020.
Additionally, a recent report published in the journal Hepatology found that the increased rate of alcohol consumption linked to the pandemic will cause 100 additional deaths and 2,800 extra cases of liver failure by 2023.
“The pandemic was a perfect storm,” says Dr. Elizabeth Bulat, medical director at the Henry Ford Maplegrove Center in West Bloomfield Township. “People felt isolated and overwhelmed, as the pandemic upended their normal routines and structures and left them without access to their usual support systems.”
April is National Alchohol Awareness Month, an opportunity to reexamine your relationship with alcohol, says Erika Bocknek, an associate professor of counseling psychology at Wayne State University. “It’s a moment to step back and reflect before your drinking gets out of hand.”
Think before you sip.
The first step to evaluate your drinking is to ask yourself why you’re having a drink, Bocknek says. “Alcohol plays a pervasive role in our culture, so it’s easy to make drinking issues seem less problematic. It’s important to remember that the problem can be invisible.” It may be that you need to make a fundamental change, such as finding a new job or attending support meetings at your local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter.
Pay attention to your own red flags.
“Are you finding that you’re starting to drink by yourself, hide your intake, or use alcohol as a coping mechanism?” Bulat asks. Notice when you’re feeling irritable, overwhelmed, or anxious. When these feelings arise, take deep breaths and remain present and aware in your body. Experts also recommend adopting a mantra or reciting the Serenity Prayer used in 12-step addiction recovery programs.
Take a break.
Try going a week without alcohol and see how you feel, Bocknek says. You might find your sleep is better, your energy is higher, and your scale reads a pound or two lighter. Use the time to think about what motivates you to drink. Is it because you feel overwhelmed or stressed out? “The reason alcohol works as a coping strategy is because it dulls your senses and forces you to relax,” Bocknek says. Instead, explore healthier ways to relax, such as going to the gym or meditating.
It’s easier to give up a bad habit when you replace it with a healthy one. Seek out new hobbies and activities, and invest more time in your relationships, connecting with friends and family on FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype. “Journaling, drawing, instruments, cooking — these are all effective distractions,” Bulat says. You can also sip a glass of water between drinks, or consider switching to a tasty mocktail from the burgeoning non-alcoholic beverage industry.
Talk to someone.
How do you know when it’s time to seek help? “The main question to ask yourself,” Bocknek says, “is whether alcohol is inhibiting the life you would like to be living.” You can seek help from a therapist, your local Alcoholics Anonymous chapter, a mentor, or a friend who can serve as your accountability partner. “Therapy is very effective when you are unsure whether alcohol is impairing your life and need a safe space to explore the question,” she adds. “Do not wait until it’s an emergency.”
Cutting back can be tricky when alcohol is part of your social life, so set your intention before you arrive. “Are you going to have one drink and hold it all night?” Bocknek says. “Is your goal to not touch alcohol at all?” Tell your friends that you’re having a sober night. “Saying that out loud and starting the conversation can give you the positive feedback to pursue your goal.”