General Calls on Americans to Face Facts About Drinking

(NIAAA) U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.C.S., in April called on American adults who drink alcohol to participate in free screenings to be offered April 8 at more than 5000 sites nationwide. The "ALCOHOL AND YOUR HEALTH – WHERE DO YOU DRAW THE LINE?" screenings are offered free as part of National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD).

"National Alcohol Screening Day can help save lives by maximizing the power of prevention. No one wants to hurt themselves or others through drinking, and a free screening provides the opportunity to learn how alcohol affects you – so that you can prevent risks from becoming tragedies," said Dr. Carmona. "Drinking can have unintended and even tragic consequences. In the United Sates, alcohol consumption leads to more than 100,000 deaths each year from alcohol-related injuries and illnesses. As a former paramedic and nurse, and more recently a trauma surgeon and community law enforcement officer, I have seen the results of alcohol use and abuse at close range. I encourage every American who drinks alcohol to take advantage of a free screening to very quickly learn about his or her own risks."

According to a recent Massachusetts General Hospital report, of the 108 million annual visits to U.S. emergency rooms, 7.6 million – three times the previous estimate – are alcohol-related.

"My goal is to prevent alcohol-related traffic crashes from occurring, and to reduce the risk of injury rather than continually treat the consequences," said emergency physician Jeffrey Runge, M.D., Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "It only takes 5 minutes for a physician to screen for alcohol abuse*, but it can make a lifetime of difference for a patient and save our society nearly $185 billion annually in health and safety costs and productivity losses." NHTSA recently unveiled a new national strategy that focuses on alcohol screening and brief intervention, together with highly visible enforcement and prosecution and DWI courts.

Forty-one percent of traffic crashes, the leading cause of death for Americans through age 34, are alcohol-related, according to NHTSA. In 2002, 17,419 Americans died in alcohol-related traffic crashes; more than 15,000 of these involved a driver or pedestrian with a blood alcohol content of .08 grams per deciliter, the legal limit in 47 states, or higher. Compared with abstainers, drinkers – especially heavy or excessive drinkers – have higher death rates from injuries, violence, suicide, poisoning, cirrhosis, certain cancers, and possibly hemorrhagic strokes. However, because of alcohol’s apparent protective effects in some population subgroups against coronary heart disease, consequences of alcohol use must be evaluated in conjunction with its potential benefits.

Almost 49 percent of U.S. adults abstain from alcohol use or drink fewer than 12 drinks per year. About 22 percent are light or occasional drinkers, and about 29 percent – nearly 3 in 10 U.S. adults – are "risky drinkers" who

regularly or occasionally exceed screening guidelines that distinguish persons at heightened risk for the medical disorders alcohol dependence (commonly called alcoholism) and alcohol abuse. Among risky drinkers are the more than 7 percent of U.S. adults – about 18 million persons – who met diagnostic criteria for alcohol disorders in 2002.**

"Drinks may be standard but drinkers are not," according to National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) Director Ting-Kai Li, M.D. "Complicating the effort to distinguish individuals at risk are variations in alcohol metabolism, genetic vulnerability to certain medical conditions, and a host of other individual and lifestyle characteristics. For this reason, anyone who chooses to drink should discuss potential alcohol effects, along with family history and other health concerns, with a health care professional as part of an overall health assessment. Continuing research on the basic mechanisms of alcohol effects will enable all of us to make increasingly informed choices about drinking."

Charles G. Curie, Administrator, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) says, "A truthful self-assessment about alcohol use may not be easy, but denial can be devastating or even deadly. NASD allows an individual to obtain a private, personal screening and, if necessary, referral for a full evaluation that will determine whether treatment is needed. Alcohol misuse can cause incredible losses: lost family and friends, lost jobs and opportunities, lost lives. Young and old, employed or in school, everyone can benefit from National Alcohol Screening Day."

Since its 1999 inception, more than a quarter of a million individuals have participated in NASD. The number of screening sites from 2003 to 2004 has almost doubled.

NASD is a project of the nonprofit Screening for Mental Health, Inc., in collaboration with the National Institutes of Health’s NIAAA and SAMHSA, both components of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. More than 50 public and private partners, including NHTSA and the American Medical Association, also support NASD. To find a local screening site, telephone 1-800-890-2200 or visit: www.NationalAlcoholScreeningDay.org