April 11, 2013

Editorial: Screen for alcohol abuse


---- — Any police officer will tell you that alcohol abuse is behind the majority of crimes in the North Country. It is the cause of a great deal of marital discord, as well. And the health problems associated with alcohol are well-documented.

Of course, used in moderation, alcohol can be an enhancement to social situations, to meals, to celebrations. The problem is that some people can’t control how much they consume, and it becomes a life-twisting addiction.

That is why a new push is on nationwide to recognize what is being called “at-risk drinking.” That is defined as men having four or more drinks in one day or women having three or more.

A nonprofit group called Screening for Mental Health Inc. recently completed a national survey of 1,000 adults, which showed that half of all men and one-third of women had at least one at-risk drinking episode in the last year.

The study also showed that one-fifth of Americans believe that regardless of how much a person drinks, it isn’t a problem unless it has negative impacts on their personal relationships or work performance.

“Despite public opinion, at-risk drinking increases your chances of developing alcohol use disorders — such as alcoholism — as well as other physical and mental-health problems,” said Dr. Douglas G. Jacobs, associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and medical director of Screening for Mental Health Inc. “In the U.S., about 18 million people have an alcohol-use disorder.”

All across the country today, people are being encouraged to complete free alcohol screening. In the North Country, it is available in person at only one site: St. Regis Mohawk Mental Health Services, 412 State Highway 37, Akwesasne.

But online screening is also available. Go to the website You will be asked to click on your state, and the local screening sites will pop up. You will see an opportunity to complete free, anonymous screening for alcohol or other factors that cause stress in lives.

Alcohol abuse can complicate the lives of men and women across a broad range of ages and incomes. But people with drinking problems often won’t admit they are out of control. In the new survey, 68 percent of respondents said they would be likely to speak with a health-care provider if they thought they might have an alcohol problem. But only 51 percent of those who had 20 or more at-risk drinking episodes in the past year said they would see help.

The effects of alcohol abuse reach far beyond the problem drinker, ensnaring family, friends, co-workers and even community members.

The first step to regaining control is recognizing the problem. Answering some online questions could, in black and white, provide the answer needed to start that journey.