Our Turn: Message of Alcohol Awareness Month more important than ever

Published: 4/21/2020 6:00:25 AM

As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s easy to overlook that April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and the importance of emphasizing responsible alcohol consumption for those 21 and over and recognizing the consequences of alcohol misuse and abuse.

During unsettling times, it is easy for some to turn to alcohol to quell feelings of stress and anxiety. Caring for ourselves is a complex and personal issue, and the lawful and responsible consumption of alcohol is an important part of this process.

Each year, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol-related causes. In 2014 alcohol-impaired driving fatalities accounted for 31% of overall driving fatalities (9,967 deaths). These deaths could have been avoided, making alcohol the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

Now more than ever it is critical to be aware of the consequences of excessive or binge drinking and to prioritize healthy behaviors. As New Hampshire enters its sixth week under stay-at-home orders due to COVID-19 outbreak, we are reminded of the importance of this month.

As we find ourselves in a global pandemic, studies show that catastrophic events can trigger increased substance misuse. Excessive alcohol consumption can compromise a person’s immune system and increase the risk for respiratory illnesses and other conditions. According to the Mayo Clinic, excessive alcohol use can make it harder for the body to resist disease and increase the risk of illness.

Young people are not immune to the anxiety and pressures we are all experiencing during these difficult times. According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), in 2018, about 2.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 drank alcohol in its “past month” survey, and 1.2 million of them binge drank in that period.

Although the percentage who drank alcohol decreased between 2002 and 2018, about 1 in 11 adolescents in 2018 were “past month” alcohol users. In New Hampshire, 23% of 12-20 year-olds reported they have had more than five drinks in the last month, ranking our state as the second highest in the country for underage drinking.

The disruptions caused by COVID-19 can take many forms for young people and have a lasting effect. From the cancellation of rites of passage like high school proms and graduations, to college students being uprooted from campus life, parents and caregivers need to be even more attentive to the pressures young people are experiencing and be vigilant to the signs and effects of alcohol misuse.

It is important for families and communities to talk with their kids about the harms of underage drinking. Early drinking can affect growth and brain development. The younger kids are when they start drinking, the harder it is for them to quit, which is why early intervention is so critical.

This is why its so important for organizations like ours to collaborate on effective policy.

The New Hampshire Liquor Commission has the unique responsibility of maximizing revenue for the state’s general fund, which supports essential state programs, including education, health and social services, transportation, natural resource protection and New Hampshire’s Alcohol Abuse Prevention and Treatment Fund. As the second largest non-tax revenue generator, NHLC plays a critical role for the state, contributing $162 million or 8.3% of general fund revenues in Fiscal Year 2019.

While the NHLC is extremely successful at these efforts and has been noted as the most progressive and profitable of the nation’s 17 control states, it is hyper-focused on its duty to encourage the responsible sale and consumption of products and prevention of underage use, through education, industry partnerships, licensing and enforcement.

New Futures is New Hampshire’s leading advocacy organization supporting state and local policies that promote health and wellness, improve prevention, treatment, and recovery programs, and increase healthy early childhood development. Its policy perspectives are grounded in evidence-based areas of focus that are proven to raise public health outcomes.

Having a strong state-run alcohol beverage control model that partners with health advocacy organizations on common-sense policy is key to preventing alcohol misuse and abuse – especially in the current environment.

Together, we would like to emphasize that alcohol misuse can be prevented; effective treatments are available; and recovery is possible. For more information on prevention, treatment, and recovery options in New Hampshire, please visit The Doorway online at the doorway.nh.gov or call 211.

(Kate Frey is the vice president of advocacy for New Futures, a nonprofit, nonpartisan health policy and advocacy organization. Joseph Mollica is chairman of the New Hampshire Liquor Commission, which operates 77 New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlet locations. For more information on alcohol policy resources please go to www.new-futures.org.)

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