Alcohol Awareness Month is a time to spread awareness about alcoholism, or alcohol use disorder, which is one of the nation’s leading public health concerns. This April, we want to make sure we are providing information to help in these efforts as well as support the communities we serve.
According to Carson Felkel, MD, systemic medical director for behavioral health at Bon Secours Mercy Health, the need for this awareness month has become more prevalent throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Check out this Q&A with Dr. Felkel to see what else he has to share about alcohol use disorder.
Q: What exactly is alcohol use disorder?
A: Alcohol use disorder is defined as people drinking a certain amount of drinks, which then begin to impair their function. This can happen anywhere, at home or even at work. People who partake in more risky behavior typically fall under the category of substance abuse. However, everyone is different. If someone feels like they cannot cut back, or that they are drinking to make something go away, that could be identified as risky behavior and substance abuse.
Q: How has alcohol use changed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: Going into the pandemic, it was clear that about 6 percent of adults struggled with alcohol use disorder. Since the pandemic, that number has certainly been exacerbated. Far more people have picked up drinking to cope with the extreme anxiety and stress that the pandemic has brought forward.
Q: How can someone struggling with alcohol use disorder get help?
A: Everyone is different and one size does not fit all. Tailored approaches are needed to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to get the help they need. Overall, if you feel as if you need to stop drinking and you cannot, it is necessary to speak with your health care provider. They will be able to help you get the treatment you need.
There are many treatments for alcohol use disorder. One-on-one behavioral therapy, group therapy, support groups, such as AA, and specific medications are designed to stop specific alcohol cravings.
Q: Why is there so much stigma around alcohol use disorder?
A: Alcohol use, misuse and even alcohol disorder all come down to the brain. When one begins to drink, the brain quiets and the excitatory neurons turn off. This helps to reduce the amount of anxiety one might experience.
When the brain quiets, dopamine is released, making those who drink feel better than usual. However, in time, this constant release of dopamine becomes addictive. This is why many people cannot stop drinking on their own. It becomes a brain disorder. This is also why there is much stigma around alcohol, because many believe that it is just as easy to quit drinking as it is to start drinking.
Learn about the substance abuse services we offer at Bon Secours.