April is Alcohol Awareness Month, highlighting serious consequences of drinking too much.
Excessive alcohol use contributes to more than 95,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Dr. Scott Itano, a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Washington in Seattle, said the pandemic has exacerbated dangerous drinking habits.
“People used to have normal coping mechanisms such as travel, sports, seeing their friends,” Itano explained. “And when they were locked into their houses in quarantine, they really had fewer outlets and some of them turned to alcohol. And then that alcohol use spiraled, I saw in some of my patients, and turned into alcohol use disorder.”
Alcohol use disorder is the medical term for alcohol addiction, which is considered a disease. Itano noted it is possible to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, but as with other things, the problem is using it in excess. He advised the general rule is men should limit themselves to two drinks a day, and women one a day.
Itano pointed out alcohol use disorder has serious health consequences, including an increased risk of multiple types of cancers. He cautioned drinking is sometimes seen as a method of self-treatment for underlying mental-health concerns, such as depression or anxiety.
“If you ever feel like you’re starting to go down that path where you’re drinking more alcohol than you typically do, or you’re feeling more stressed or anxious or depressed, and drinking at the same time, reach out early,” Itano recommended. “That’s our job here as primary care clinicians, and we’re comfortable dealing with this and want to help.”
Given how common the disease is, Itano emphasized most people know someone who has struggled with it or still is struggling. He suggested speaking directly to the person if you feel there is an issue.
“I think the important thing is just calling it out and having a face-to-face conversation, conveying your level of concern and that you care about them, and just what you’ve noticed and witnessed,” Itano outlined. “And then, seeing what they say from there.”