(The Daily Dish) April is Alcohol Awareness Month and many Americans believe that a glass of wine or a beer at night is one way to reduce stress and wind down after a hard day.

In fact, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s (NIAAA) recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85.6 percent of people ages 18 or older reported that they drank alcohol at some point in their lifetime; 69.5 percent drank in the past year and 54.9 percent reported that they drank in the last month.

While we know that number is much lower in Utah, in 2018, 29.7 percent of adults reported current alcohol use, the COVID-19 pandemic may have only exacerbated the issue, as recent research shows that the number and rate of alcohol-related deaths increased approximately 25 percent between 2019 and 2020, during the first year of the pandemic.

Meagan Weber, a clinical pharmacist with Optum Utah joins us today to share important information to help us understand and address this ongoing community health crisis.

Pharmacists have regular contact with consumers with chronic conditions through dispensing services, which provide opportunities to screen and educate them about various health-related issues, including alcohol use.

People drink to socialize, celebrate and relax and will sometimes use alcohol to self-medicate physical or emotional pain or more serious behavioral health issues. While drinking alcohol responsibly isn’t necessarily a problem, drinking too much can cause a range of consequences and increase your risk for a variety of problems.

Certain medications may interact with alcohol, altering the metabolism or effects of the alcohol and/or the medication so and it’s important that we know that’s going to affect our patients.

Fortunately, many of the health conditions linked to alcohol use are treatable, reversible, and not fatal. Unfortunately, the stigma around addiction and cultural attitudes towards alcohol consumption can prevent people from recognizing they have a problem and getting the help they need to recover.

For some people drinking to excess, known as binge or high-intensity drinking can lead to significant impairments in motor coordination, decision-making, impulse control and other functions, increasing risk of harm.

In addition, continuing to drink despite clear signs of impairment can result in alcohol overdoses. Anyone who consumes too much alcohol too quickly may be in danger of an alcohol overdose, this is especially true for individuals who engage in binge drinking. For example, teenagers and young adults who often engage in binge drinking may be at particular risk for alcohol overdose.

According to the National Cancer Society, clear patterns have emerged between alcohol consumption and the development of the following types of cancer: head and neck cancer, esophageal cancer, liver cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. 

A few things to keep in mind, If you choose to drink:

  • According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), a standard drink is defined by the following guidelines:
    • 12 FL OZ of regular beer (about 5 percent alcohol)
    • 8-9 FL OZ of malt liquor (about 7 percent alcohol)
    • 5 FL OZ of table wine (about 12 percent alcohol)
    • 1.5 FL OZ shot of distilled spirits (about 40 percent alcohol)
  • It is important to note that the percentage of alcohol shown here varies within and across beverage types. Although the standard drink amounts can be helpful guidelines, they may not accurately reflect all serving sizes.
  • The CDC defines moderate drinking as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.

As mentioned earlier, alcohol-related deaths increased by 25 percent nationally between 2019 and 2020 as an estimated 95,000 people died from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. In Utah in 2018, estimates suggest that more than 700 Utahns die from alcohol-attributable causes each year.

There are a couple of factors that may have really contributed to that acceleration. One is the loss of connection with alcohol-related services and treatment programs for people who have a history of alcohol related problems. That’s then combined with the stress of the pandemic and financial stressors that are associated with it.

Treatment and prevention:

  • According to the NIAAA, no matter how severe the problem may see, most people with alcohol use disorder can benefit from some sort of treatment. Research shows that about one-third of people who are treated for alcohol problems have no further symptoms 1 year later. They will most likely need to continue outpatient treatment, join AA, obtain a sponsor and attend 90 AA meetings in 90 days. Many others substantially reduce their drinking and report fewer alcohol-related problems.
  • Types of treatments include:
    • Behavioral treatments such as counseling
    • Medications that are prescribed by a primary care physician that helps people stop or reduce their drinking and prevent relapse
    • Mutual-support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).
    • Education and support programs for loved ones who are undergoing treatment for alcoholism

Start with your primary care doctor as they can be a good source of treatment referrals and medications. The NIAAA website is also a great resource for finding additional treatment considerations.

You can visit the Optum website or call (866) 637-5268 for more information or TTY 711.

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