Although tragic that we live in a world where Alcohol Awareness Month needs to exist, I’m glad that it does. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and has been around for 33 years. It was originally founded by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (now Facing Addiction with NCADD), to reduce stigma associated with alcohol use disorder by encouraging communities around the country to reach out and educate the public about alcohol, alcohol use disorder, and recovery. Years ago, people felt ashamed and embarrassed to admit they had an alcohol use disorder, and even many who become sober don’t like to be public about it. This encourages the stigma attached to alcohol use disorder to perpetuate and it also keeps many people who don’t know recovery is an option, stuck in their cycle of misuse. But in reality, there are over 20 million individuals and families living in recovery and this is a message we have the power to communicate through Alcohol Awareness Month.
Each year a theme is chosen, and this year’s theme is, “help for today, hope for tomorrow.” It was picked to showcase the strong impact that alcohol and alcohol-fueled consequences have on young people and their friends and families. Facing Addiction put out an Organizer’s Guide with helpful tips and suggestions on how to educate your community. It includes things like city proclamations, letters to the editor, information on an alcohol-free weekend, and communication to share with schools and the workplace. I could offer a million ways how this guide could do and be better, starting with the language, but I do recognize that it’s a step that this guide is out there, and people are (hopefully) using it.
People may be wondering why Alcohol Awareness Month is even important. I know that many people view alcohol use disorder as something of an extreme. But it’s important to note that alcohol kills over 3 million people annually. Those are deaths that don’t have to happen. Additionally, alcohol use disorder, asking for help, and getting sober are still extremely stigmatized. Stigma can manifest in many different ways. I’ve heard it all since getting sober, that I wasn’t “bad enough with my drinking,” to get sober, that I don’t have a problem, that sober means only going to AA and doing the 12 steps, or others who believe I’ve been to jail or worse just because I no longer drink or do drugs. Stigma also lies in the labels and language we use and the taboo subjects of going to addiction treatment, asking for help, and “coming out,” as sober. Once we do get the courage to say we’re sober, we’re often judged by the public. They think something is wrong with us, that we had a severe issue, that we can’t control ourselves, or we have a moral failing.
Alcohol use disorder is a spectrum and the truth is, alcohol has deadly consequences that affect people on all areas of the spectrum. Unfortunately, we live in a society where alcohol is so normalized, it’s weirder for someone to choose not to drink than it is to binge drinking and be hungover. These societal norms need to change. One way we can bring about change is to honor, highlight, and talk about Alcohol Awareness Month. This involves government and community organizations, groups that have a lot of say in how our society works. It also brings a voice to those who are still drinking and using, as well as to those who are in recovery from addiction. All of our stories are valid and deserve to be heard. If I hadn’t listened to others’ stories of success around not drinking, I never would have gained the courage to try it myself.
We’ve made progress around breaking the stigma of addiction and recovery, but we still have a long way to go. There are many different pillars of moving forward towards an equal and more fair society, and Alcohol Awareness Month is one tool that is beneficial to us. It’s not the only tool, but it’s still a valuable one. I think it deserves importance because it’s been around for a long time, it’s one of the first tools that’s been available to us to help people get and stay sober, and to educate our communities about alcohol and its devastating effects.
Kelly Fitzgerald Junco
Kelly Fitzgerald Junco is a sober writer based in Southwest Florida who is best known for her personal blog The Adventures of a Sober Señorita. Her work has been published across the web including sites like The Huffington Post, Thought Catalog, Ravishly, SheKnows, Elite Daily, The Fix, Brit + Co, Addiction Unscripted and AfterPartyMagazine. She is currently writing a memoir.