Alcohol Awareness Month and Why it Matters

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. For us at Sunshine Coast Health Centre, Alcohol Awareness Month is a time to raise awareness about problematic alcohol use, its effects on the body and mind, and the importance of seeking help for those struggling with addiction. 

Is Alcohol A Drug?

We get this question a lot… In short, the answer is: Yes!

Alcohol is considered a drug because it is a psychoactive substance that affects the central nervous system. One of the unique aspects of alcohol is its biphasic effects, which means that its effects on the body and mind can change depending on the amount consumed. In small doses, alcohol can have a stimulant effect, leading to reduced inhibitions – which is why it’s so popular at social events. In larger doses, however, it can lead to sedation, impaired judgment, and even unconsciousness. 

However, alcohol is so ubiquitous in many aspects of our culture that it may be easy to overlook it as a drug—and as a serious one, at that. People tend to use alcohol during holidays such as St. Patrick’s Day or to mark life events such as birthdays. People drink together to socialize, commiserate, or celebrate. We give each other alcohol as gifts or buy friends a drink to make them feel appreciated.

Despite all of this, alcohol is as serious of a substance as any. It’s associated with yearly deaths in Canada numbering in the tens of thousands, along with a much greater number of preventable hospitalizations. In fact, Canada has recently changed alcohol consumption guidelines quite dramatically to account for the fact that alcohol is associated with many harms. And in terms of a gateway drug? Well, look no further.

man drinking with bottles of alcohol in foreground symbolising alcohol awareness

So, Why Do We Say “Drugs And Alcohol”?

We say drugs and alcohol because people tend to forget that alcohol is a drug, or tend to see it in a separate category. More accurately, we could say drugs, including alcohol. But culturally speaking, alcohol gets all sorts of free passes that other drugs don’t. If we were to talk about other drugs the way we talk about alcohol, we would quickly realize how normalized addiction and problematic substance use are when it comes to alcohol.

  • “I drank way more than I meant to yesterday”
  • “I’m not dealing with any of this right now, I’m gonna go have a drink”
  • “Well, yeah, I was drunk!”

Replace the alcohol in any of the above with street drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine, and think about how that sounds. The substance might be different, but a lot of the same themes emerge: using substances as a way to avoid facing problems, blaming substances instead of taking accountability, and not being able to control the amount of use, among others.

What Is Alcoholism?

Though still widely used, the term “alcoholism” is decreasing in use in both clinical and policy contexts internationally. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) lists “alcohol use disorder” as a type of substance use disorder. It further defines it as a medical condition with various sub-classifications that can be diagnosed using specific criteria.

man recognizing problematic drinking during alcohol awareness month

In short, alcoholism is an outdated term for a substance use disorder involving alcohol.

Mixing Alcohol and Drugs

Mixing alcohol with other drugs is never a good idea. We call this mixing of substances polysubstance use. Slang terms for mixing psychoactive substances (e.g. candy-flipping) may come to mind, but the most common type of polysubstance use, by far, is mixing alcohol with other drugs.

With the acute and varied effects that alcohol has on the body and mind, polysubstance use involving alcohol can be harmful, and sometimes fatal. 

Dealing With Addiction And Problematic Substance Use

At Sunshine Coast Health Centre, we believe that awareness can be a great first step. We understand many people have already experienced the devastating effects of alcohol addiction, including job loss, financial problems, legal issues, and relationship troubles.

Health problems, such as liver damage, high blood pressure, and an increased risk of cancer are also concerns for some of the clients that come to our centre. However, quitting alcohol and withdrawing from it is something to take very seriously. For those who chronically drink, we do not recommend quitting cold turkey, as the consequences could be fatal in extreme cases.

By increasing awareness about problematic alcohol use and addiction, we can gain the knowledge and skills needed to lead healthy, fulfilling lives. Whether in recovery or not, it is crucial to understand the risks associated with alcohol consumption; that’s what Alcohol Awareness Month is all about. 

Sunshine Coast Health Centre and Georgia Strait Women’s Clinic are world-class centres for addiction and mental health treatment. We take an approach that recognizes the physical, psychological, social and spiritual aspects of treatment and recovery. If you or someone you know is looking for support with substance use or mental health, give us a call today.

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