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Drinking alcohol excessively can seriously impact your health and wellness, as well as your relationship with family members, friends, and colleagues. It may also impact your performance in school and/or work - to such an extent that you might be expelled or fired.
However, one of the more adverse impacts of drinking alcohol is that it can eventually lead to alcohol abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction - typically characterized by intense and severe alcoholism.
Once you get to this stage, your health will suffer, and you may develop several diseases and behavioral and mental health disorders. Similarly, you might engage in dangerous activities - such as driving or operating heavy machinery while intoxicated. This can cause injuries and/or death - both for yourself and for others around you.
Additionally, those who drink heavily cause social harm in the form of family disruption, workplace problems (including unemployment), financial difficulties, and criminal convictions. They also tend to have to deal with higher costs for healthcare and related expenses. On the social level, alcohol also comes with immense costs in terms of loss of productivity, lost years, and health care expenses.
Among the effective ways to reduce or completely eliminate the costs and expenses typically associated with alcoholism and alcohol abuse is through alcohol prevention. In most cases, this involves preventing individuals who are particularly susceptible to the condition from starting the abusive patterns of drinking in the first place.
However, people tend to drink for a variety of reasons and in different circumstances. As such, it is imperative that alcohol prevention efforts are designed in such a way that they can effectively address the entire spectrum of problems commonly associated with drinking.
In this guide, you will learn some of the effective approaches used to prevent alcohol abuse and alcoholism, as well as how and why they are aimed at particular segments of the population - particularly young people, their families, as well as the communities in which they work and live.
Understanding Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism
Contrary to popular belief, alcohol is both physically and psychologically addictive. Therefore, when you drink frequently, you can eventually develop alcoholism. This is why the government has been trying to prevent these problems from cropping up by enacting a variety of laws and engaging in intensive public awareness campaigns.
In most cases, high risk alcohol consumption tends to lead to many different forms of societal, familial, and personal harm - both in the US and all over the globe. Around the world, for instance, alcohol is now ranked as the 3rd leading risk factor leading to disability and premature death. In most high income countries, also, the costs tied to alcohol abuse account for 1 to 3% of their entire gross domestic product.
In the United States, it is estimated in 2006 that alcohol abuse cost the country $223.5 billion - a figure that has been escalating since. However, those who engage in this habit (as well as their families and loved ones) only pay for a fraction of this cost - with the government and other individuals and bodies in society catering for 60% of the rest. In the same way, 70% of the total costs of alcoholism were as a direct result of lost time and productivity.
In 2007, also, 9% of all Americans with full time jobs reported that they had engaged in heavy alcohol abuse - meaning that they had taken 5 or more drinks in a single sitting - on more than 5 days within the 30 days before the study. Additionally, 30% of people within this study population also reported that they had engaged in binge drinking - involving taking over 5 drinks on a single occasion at least once within a span of 30 days.
A national survey also showed that these forms of alcohol abuse contributed to increasing absences from work, losses in the productivity of workers, and accidents involving alcohol-related injuries at the workplace. Other studies also show that 15% of the entire American workforce - which is equal to about 19.2 million people - consume enough alcohol to cause them to be impaired at the workplace.
Apart from the enormous impact of alcohol abuse among adults, however, there are other costs linked to the consequences arising from underage consumption and alcoholism - which are estimated to be around $62 billion a year.
Understanding High Risk Drinking
One of the steps to alcohol prevention is to understand what risky drinking involves. Only through such an understanding can people be taught how to recognize unhealthy drinking patterns and find ways to curb them.
Accordingly, NIAAA (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism) has developed certain guidelines to help people understand the differences between low risk and high risk drinking. To this end, low risk drinking involves taking less than 14 standard alcohol drinks a week (which is about 4 drinks a day) for men and 7 similar drinks a week (or 3 per day) for women.
Through publicizing these limits for low risk drinking, the Institute hopes to raise public awareness of the risks and harms arising from alcohol abuse and alcoholism, as well as to prevent the problems that tend to arise from risky drinking.
Targeted Approaches To Alcohol Prevention
At times, providing guidelines for healthy drinking might not be enough to cause people to stop the habit. When this happens, the next best step involves targeting specific groups using highly focused messages to prevent their alcohol abuse.
Consider the following strategies:
1. Alcohol Prevention Programs for the Youth
Alcohol is one of the main drugs of choice for most adolescents in America. In fact, the rate of current alcohol use (within the past 30 days at any given time) is usually double that of cigarette smoking. In the same way, the rate of annual use tends to exceed the abuse of other intoxicating and mind altering substances, such as marijuana.
Since drinking is such a huge problem for this group, researchers and other interested parties have discovered that underage alcohol abuse is harder to prevent in comparison to other forms of drug abuse.
Therefore, one of the alcohol prevention strategies used includes providing the youth with the tools that they can use to ensure that they delay their abuse or at least ensure they never start. These involve teaching them ways to say no to alcohol as well as showing them how to change their community and/or family dynamics.
2. School-Based Interventions
School is an important part in the lives of most young people. As such, it provides the ideal setting for alcohol prevention efforts. Effective interventions and programs, therefore, include elements designed to:
- Correct the myth that everyone drinks
- Ensure they are developmentally and culturally targeted for the students served
- Involve important members of the community, such as the parents of young people
- Providing support and training for students and teachers
- Revisit the topic of alcohol over several years until the prevention messages are fully reinforced
- Teach the young ways they can say no to drinking and alcohol abuse
- Use various interactive teaching methods, such as role playing, same age leadership, and small group activities
3. Community-Based Interventions
Communities are also engaged in the prevention of underage drinking. One of the obstacles facing alcohol prevention revolves around the fact that many young people find themselves in situations and environments where people tolerate and reinforce drinking.
Thus, school based interventions on their own cannot address all situations linked to alcohol abuse among the youth. As a direct result, community-based interventions are necessary especially in situations where there are school-based alcohol prevention curricular already in place.
Through these interventions, the problem of underage drinking can be mitigated before it even happens. In most cases, these efforts may include but are not necessarily limited to:
- Changing the policies involving alcohol use and sale at community events
- Increasing public awareness on the various problems linked to underage drinking
- Increasing the enforcement of underage alcohol drinking laws
- Limiting the sale of alcohol to minors
However, it can be challenging to set up successful community-wide alcohol prevention programs on a large scale. As such, the programs can only be successful when different members of the community collaborate even if they represent diverse ideas, resources, and backgrounds.
Similarly, it is imperative that community boundaries are defined clearly. By adding more components to these community based interventions, however, might increase the cost of alcohol prevention and - as such - require long term support if the community-wide goals and outcomes are to be achieved.
Therefore, the goals need to be defined clearly so that the prevention efforts are successful. Similarly, those involved must determine strategic and effective ways to measure the progress made in the achievement of these goals.
Therefore, community based interventions must start with careful planning to ensure their success. This might involve:
- Determining prevention messages based on the problems specific to that community.
- Determining the prevention messages that are to be shared based on the specific problems affecting a particular community
- Making time allowances for planning
- Putting certain procedures in place to enforce the monitoring of all programs to ensure that the set goals are effectively met
- Setting clearly defined goals that can be easily managed
- Using evidence-based practices and policies in alcohol prevention
4. Family-Based Interventions
A variety of factors tied to families heavily influence young people and whether they will start using alcohol from an early age. For instance, if there are no positive parent-child relationships or if there is a family history of alcoholism and other alcohol-related problems, the risk will be higher for the young people involved.
On the other end of the spectrum, children with strong family bonds to their parents as well as those with parents who involve themselves actively in their personal lives have a higher likelihood of engaging in underage drinking.
Due to the importance of these family influences in shaping or preventing problematic behavior among the young, it is imperative that family-based interventions are put in place.
Most of these interventions will focus on a variety of parent practices, such as communication, bonding, and family management. By so doing, they can effectively reduce the risk of problematic behavior among young children and teens.
In the same way, these interventions might be successful both for families with young people who exhibit serious delinquent behavior as well as for the general population.
5. College- Based Interventions
Drinking - binge drinking in particular - among students in college is a major source of concern for colleges, parents, and other stakeholders. Thus, alcohol prevention programs that only focus on providing information about alcohol and the adverse effects attached to its abuse might not be effective for college age students. In spite of this, these are the programs that tend to be most favored by various institutions due to their relative affordability, ease of implementation, and non-controversial nature.
The prevention strategies that tend to show the greatest success among young people in college include, but are not necessarily limited to:
i) The provision of brief motivational approaches to alcohol prevention and intervention
Motivational alcohol interventions tend to focus more on enhancing the motivation of students as well as their commitment to changing their behavior before it creates additional problems. These interventions are usually delivered in 1 or 2 sessions, which could take place in person, online, or via mail.
ii) Cognitive behavioral interventions
Cognitive-behavioral interventions, on the other hand, are designed in such a way that they can help students in college change their behavior. They work by helping students recognize why and when they drink too much before providing them with the tools they can use to change this behavior.
iii) Challenging the expectations that most students have about alcohol
This typically involves raising the awareness of college students about the influence and effects of alcohol abuse on their general health and well-being. It also encompasses correcting any misconceptions they might have about the amount of drinking that is happening among their peers.
6. Work-Based Interventions
Adults too have alcoholic tendencies that can deteriorate into alcohol abuse and alcoholism. Since most of them tend to be employed, there are certain work-based interventions designed to reach larger populations and audiences that might otherwise not have been able to access alcohol prevention programs.
Companies provide support programs - such as medical care and employee assistance - that might prove useful in helping both their employees and the communities they operate in at large. Employers also reap rewards in the form of the savings they make in medical costs as well as the profits they attract as a result of higher worker productivity.
Overall, the high costs associated with alcohol abuse, dependence, and alcoholism both on the individual and on society means that evidence based approaches to alcohol prevention are key. These efforts are particularly essential for young people - who are at the highest risk for suffering the consequences of early drinking. This is why workplaces, schools, communities, and families must work hand in hand with those who are at risk to provide the essential information that can help such individuals stop their drinking or never start in the first place.
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