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“Let’s get a drink.” A simple sentence most of us have heard or said countless times. For many people, alcohol has become a common way to socialize, build professional connections, and unwind at the end of a long day or week. It is a substance that has become so normalized within our culture that we forget to question its role and prevalence in the first place. 

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, a month dedicated to education and (you guessed it!) awareness around the role that alcohol plays in our individual lives, our communities, and our culture at large. While alcohol and alcohol use can be touchy subjects that elicit defensive responses, this month is simply a month for curiosity and noticing the ways that alcohol does or does not impact our lives. 

And it is impacting a lot of lives. Data from 2022 indicates that 29.5 million people aged 12 and over (about 10.5% of the population in this age group) have Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD), which is “characterized by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite adverse social, occupational, or health consequences.” An individual’s likelihood of experiencing AUD depends on a variety of factors, from genetics to drinking at an early age, as well as existing mental health disorders or experiences of trauma.

Alcohol and alcohol use disorder impacts us in untold ways. Some of these ways include public safety in the light of impaired driving, public health effects of long-term use, and effects on the economy and worker wellbeing. One area of particular importance to us at Tampa Bay Thrives is alcohol’s startling impacts on mental health. 

Research from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism finds that AUD frequently co-occurs with mental health conditions, most particularly anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, and mood disorders. Three distinct anxiety disorders most frequently co-occur with AUD: general anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, and panic disorder. Alcohol can also impact our mental health independently. According to the American Psychological Association, “Alcohol abuse and alcoholism can worsen existing conditions such as depression or induce new problems such as serious memory loss, depression or anxiety.”

If you’d like to use this month to get curious about your own alcohol use, here are three things to notice this month. You may find it helpful to journal or talk to a trusted friend or mental health practitioner about your answers.

  • Notice when you consume alcohol: When do you tend to consume alcohol? In social situations? At professional gatherings? After a stressful meeting? Around certain people? As a reward? Reflect on why you drink on these occasions or around certain people or events. You don’t need to change anything, we’re just asking you to practice awareness.
  • Notice how you feel after you drink alcohol: Do you notice any changes in your mood? In your sleep? In your physical body? If you experience anxiety or depression, do you notice any changes in your symptoms? 
  • Notice what else is in your mental health toolkit: We often reach for alcohol as a coping mechanism or way of “winding down” because it is easy and accessible. What else calms you in moments of stress? A walk? A workout? Meditation? A conversation with a friend? Having a snack? Make a list of at least 10 things. 

Whether your answers surprise you or not, we hope that this intentional reflection period provides an empowering way to reimagine your relationship with alcohol in the future and to be aware of the impacts that alcohol can have on our lives. If you or a loved one are struggling with AUD and need resources and support, call our free and confidential navigation line Let’s Talk Tampa Bay at 844-YOU-OKAY.