Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson

Is someone you know affected by alcohol use disorder?

4/11/2022 by Kileen Smyth, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., and Chad Ellis, L.I.C.S.W.


Cheers! April is Alcohol Awareness Month. It's a great time to reflect on your drinking patterns. 

Most adults in the U.S. who drink alcohol do so moderately and without complications. Unfortunately, that is not the case for everyone. 

Alcohol use disorder affects approximately 15 million adults in the U.S. An estimated 95,00 people die from alcohol-related causes annually. This makes alcohol consumption the third leading preventable cause of death in the nation. Even more concerning is that alcohol consumption during COVID-19 lockdowns increased by 60%. 

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics: 

  • 25.8% of people 18 and older report binge drinking in the past 30 days. 
  • Every day, 261 people in the U.S. die due to excessive alcohol use. 
  • 80% of these deaths involve adults 35 or older. 
  • Men are three times as likely as women to die due to alcohol abuse. 
  • 22.5% of acute alcohol-related deaths are due to suicide. 

Signs to look for

There are many signs to look for when determining if someone is affected by alcohol use disorder. Some are apparent, while others require you to take notice. Signs of an alcohol use disorder fall in the categories of tolerance, social impairment, impaired control, withdrawal symptoms and recurrent use. 

The three categories of alcohol use disorder — mild (two to three criteria), moderate (four or five criteria) and severe (six or more criteria) — are based on the following criteria: 

  • Drinking more or for a longer period than originally planned. 
  • Trying to cut down on or quit drinking but not being able to. 
  • Spending a lot of time drinking or being sick due to drinking. 
  • Craving alcohol or the strong need for a drink. 
  • Noticing that drinking causes problems at home, work or school. 
  • Continuing to drink despite the trouble it causes. 
  • Ending up in risky or dangerous situations due to drinking. 
  • Quitting activities that once were important. 
  • Feeling depressed or anxious, or another health problem. 
  • Needing to drink more to achieve the desired effect. 
  • Noticing the presence of withdrawal symptoms. 

Take the challenge

Participate in an alcohol-free weekend in observance of Alcohol Awareness Month. 

Here's how you can participate: 

  • Take the 72-hour challenge. 
    Spend 72 hours without alcohol. Make sure you and your family participate in this activity, and monitor symptoms of discomfort or cravings within the three days. 
  • Start conversations. 
    It is your role as a caring adult to initiate difficult conversations to increase awareness. Speak with friends and family members who you've noticed rely on heavy drinking and encourage them to take the 72-hour challenge. As a parent, teach your children about alcohol misuse and help them build skills to cope. 
  • Throw dry parties. 
    Use the month of April to throw alcohol-free, clean and healthy parties for adults. Invite friends, neighbors and family to enjoy social gatherings without a trace of liquor. Serve kombucha, mocktails, sparkling juice and club sodas to set an example. 

Get help

When people recognize that their drinking has become problematic and they're willing to address it, only then can they move forward. Seeking out treatment is a good next step. 

Here are links to locate evidence-based, quality treatment programs and additional support. 

Recovery strategies

It's one thing to stop using or drinking, but it's another to be actively involved in recovery. 

These 10 strategies can help people in their recovery:

  1. Get rid of all alcohol. 
    Create a safe space for your body, mind and spirit. 
  2. Remember your disease. 
    It's alcohol-"is"-m, not alcohol-"was"-m. Addiction is persistent and patient at waiting for people who think they've been "cured."
  3. Don't forget your last use or your last drink. 
    Remember and recognize what you've been through to deter you from doing it again. 
  4. Remember that one is never enough. 
    Once you start, one is never enough, and a thousand is too many. 
  5. Think the drink through to the end. 
    If you're tempted to drink, think about where it will lead you. 
  6. Use the 24-hour plan. 
    Focus on staying sober today — this hour, this minute. Don't focus on remaining sober the rest of your life. 
  7. Recognize urges and allow them to pass. 
    When you feel the urge to drink, rather than deny them, practice noticing them, accepting them, naming them, and talking with someone about them. 
  8. Postpone drinking and using. 
    Alcoholics tend to be excellent procrastinators, so use that strength to put off the drink until later. Keep a list of things you can do to procrastinate. 
  9. Use the telephone. 
    Get the number of others who can be and are supportive. Practice calling them daily. If you call people before you need them, then you'll be more likely to make the call when you're struggling. 
  10. Examine how decisions will affect your recovery. 
    When making life decisions, whether it's getting a new apartment or changing jobs, ask yourself, "How will this affect by sobriety, my recovery, and my ongoing health and wellness?"

Kileen Smyth, L.I.C.S.W., M.S.W., and Chad Ellis, L.I.C.S.W., are clinical social workers in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson. Both have worked within the Department of Psychiatry at Mayo Clinic in Rochester for years in the Addictions Program. They are psychotherapists in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Integrated Behavioral Health Division at Mayo Family Clinics Northeast and Northwest.