Screening for alcohol misuse and secondhand drinking during Alcohol Awareness Month 2013 can make a world of difference for millions, as well as society as a whole.
This is a bold statement to be sure, but one that’s more easily understood when we understand alcohol misuse and secondhand drinking as two sides of the same coin – the family disease of addiction. And for that, I invite you to read, “The Dance of the Family Disease of Addiction.”
Please understand as you continue reading that this may seem disjointed. It is. We are talking about a complicated dynamic – brain changes associated with alcohol misuse cause drinking behaviors which cause secondhand drinking. Secondhand drinking can cause brain changes that in turn may result in one or more of the risk factors that can result in alcohol misuse.
Hence the importance of screening for alcohol misuse and secondhand drinking. In this manner, we better understand this dynamic and can start the conversations that can result in self-elected, self-directed change.
The Benefits of Screening for Alcohol Misuse and Secondhand Drinking
Why should we all want to understand screening and its benefits? Why should we all anonymously screen ourselves and/or someone we are concerned about?
Because the outcomes of either side of this coin affect the lives of over one-half the (American) population and the economic costs exceed one-half trillion dollars in the U.S. This affect can be directly (as it in one’s loved one’s behavioral changes) or indirectly (as in the outcomes caused by a drunk driver or a distracted co-worker or a distraught teen). For more on this concept, check out “Addiction Impacts Lives of Millions and Costs Billions.”
Perhaps it’s the indirect effects of alcohol misuse, however – those caused by secondhand drinking – that are most misunderstood and yet these are often the cause of the cycle that sets up the next generation to develop a substance abuse problem. This post gives a more detailed explanation, “Why a Child of an Alcoholic | Addict “Chooses” to Drink or Do Drugs – Meeting Ourselves Coming and Going.”
Thus screening can help the person with the drinking problem see more clearly what the problem is (alcohol abuse or alcoholism).
It can help the person coping with secondhand drinking see more clearly the impacts on them (the impacts caused by coping with another’s drinking behaviors, such as: drunken arguments; physical fights; verbal, physical or emotional abuse of others – especially a spouse, child, boy/girlfriend; a person’s driving while impaired; domestic violence; problems at work or in school related to drinking or recovering from heavy drinking bouts; or a person’s criminal activity or engaging in risky sexual behaviors while drunk).
And – perhaps most importantly – it can help all concerned, as well as society as a whole, understand that dealing with both alcohol misuse and secondhand drinking head on – talking about it opening and frequently – can help break the cycles. It can help us help children avoid the brain changes caused by secondhand drinking that can make that young person’s brain more susceptible to developing a substance abuse problem themselves. Check out Coping with Secondhand Drinking | Drugging Can Cause a Young Person to Wire Unhealthy Coping Skills and Youth Alcohol Abuse Prevention Programs From a Different Angle.
Screening for Alcohol Misuse
Alcohol misuse refers to drinking patterns that exceed low-risk or “normal” drinking limits. Alcohol misuse patterns include binge drinking, heavy social drinking, alcohol abuse and alcoholism. When it comes to causing secondhand drinking, the label doesn’t matter. The label does matter when trying to determine how one will change the drinking pattern. An alcoholic, for example, cannot drink any amount of alcohol and treat their chronic, often relapsing brain disease, whereas an alcohol abuser may be able to learn to re-drink, to bring their drinking patterns within low-risk limits. These two short videos explain these distinctions: How Much is Too Much and Alcoholism is a Disease and It’s Not Alcohol Abuse.
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) has developed a single question to screen for “at-risk” drinking, which may be an indication of any of the alcohol misuse patterns described above because the individual is not staying within low-risk or “normal” drinking limits:
For women: How many times in the past year have you had 4 or more standard drinks on any day?
For men: How many times in the past year have you had 5 or more standard drinks on any day?
Standard drink is defined as 5 ounces of wince, 12 ounces of regular beer and 1.5 ounces of 80 proof hard liquor.
An answer of once or more indicates “at-risk” drinking or alcohol misuse.
To learn more about drinking patterns and further assessments, visit NIAAA’s website, Rethinking Drinking.
You may also wish to use the World Health Organizations Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test (AUDIT) to anonymously assess.
And NIAAA’s Clinician’s Guide for Helping Patients Who Drink Too Much also offers more information, as well.
Screening for Secondhand Drinking
To screen for secondhand drinking, reframe NIAAA’s single question as follows:
How many times in the past year has a female relative or close friend had 4 or more standard drinks on any day or a male relative or close friend had 5 or more?
An answer of once or more is an indication the person is being exposed to secondhand drinking.
For help with what to do with a “yes” answer, visit Alcohol Abuse Going On in the Family? If Only My Doctor Had Asked
To better understand why it’s important to address secondhand drinking, please visit The Health Consequences of Secondhand Drinking.
This is a lot of information to read all in one post. But as you’ve gathered, it’s a two-sided coin. If you have any questions, please feel free to call me at 650-362-3026 or send a confidential email to email@example.com.