BY JAMIE LOBER
Sponsored by Screening for Mental Health, National Alcohol Screening Day is held annually on the Thursday of the first full week of April. This initiative of the National Institutes of Health has been educating, heightening awareness and referring people to treatment for alcohol dependency and abuse issues since 1999. Many people have turned to alcohol over the years as a result of environment, genetics or both. Sometimes stressful events or bereavement can lead someone to pick up a drink, which can quickly turn into a dependence. You can take an anonymous and confidential screening test in person or in the comfort of your home by going to howdoyouscore.org.
Alcohol dependency can range from mild to severe. For many it can spiral out of control and they may or may not even realize there is a problem. If you can relate to any of the symptoms below, or can identify them in friends or family, take advantage of the screening test available to you.
- Irritability or mood swings
- Making excuses for drinking, such as needing alcohol to relax or handle stress
- Isolating from family or friends
- Drinking alone or keeping your habit a secret
- Feeling hungover when not drinking
- Changes such as friends or appearance
- Short-term memory loss or blackouts
- Choosing drinking over other responsibilities
The Foundation for a Drug-Free World defined alcoholism by the presence of 4 symptoms:
- Loss of control
- Physical dependence such as having withdrawal symptoms when not drinking
- Tolerance or the need to drink more in order to get high
The screening test will ask questions such as how often you have a drink containing alcohol, how often you have 6 or more drinks and how often you have not been able to stop drinking once you started. It covers whether you have been unable to complete expected tasks as a result of your drinking, if you have ever felt guilt or remorse from drinking, injured someone as a result, or have forgotten things as a consequence. If friends or loved ones have expressed concern about you, it is also a good idea to take a screening test to see where you stand.
Try to avoid being in denial if you have a drinking problem. It can be easy to rationalize your behaviors by becoming defensive and blaming a person or situation for your need to consume alcohol. The reality is that you put yourself at risk for both short-term and long-term health consequences such as:
- Slurred speech
- Shifts in mood
- Visual impairment
- Temporary coordination problems and memory loss
- Damage to regions in the brain that can affect the body’s communication pathways
- Increased triglyceride levels, putting you at risk for heart disease and diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Liver cirrhosis
- Nerve damage
Of course you also put yourself at risk for a DUI. Once you have taken the screening test, it is a good idea to sit down and have a serious discussion with your doctor. Treatment is very individualized and can range from attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings for support and suggestions all the way to a medical-supervised detox. Withdrawing from alcohol can be difficult and dangerous without the help of a healthcare provider so you do not want to take that journey on alone. Once you complete detox you may enter a rehab program that can be inpatient or outpatient, depending on your needs. Meetings such as 12-step can help ensure that you sustain your recovery. While it may not be a pleasant topic to talk about, it is important that you take advantage of April 11 being National Alcohol Screening Day and use it as a building block for a healthier and safer future.