Association News
APA Members Urged to Volunteer As Screeners
Psychiatric News
Volume 38 Number 3 page 14-17

Psychiatrists and health professionals are being asked to screen people for alcohol abuse or dependence in April and educate the public about the many health problems that can result from frequent alcohol use.

The fifth annual National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD), which is funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, takes place on April 10 and coincides with Alcohol Awareness Month.

Last year, professionals at about 2,800 sites screened more than 45,000 people.

APA is one of about 30 organizations that sponsors the event.

NASD is organized each year by Screening for Mental Health Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Wellesley Hills, Mass.

According to NIAAA, almost 14 million Americans either abuse alcohol or are alcohol dependent. Heavy drinking increases the risk for an assortment of health problems such as high blood pressure, certain types of cancers, heart disease, and birth defects.

To educate the public about the many health problems associated with alcohol intake, the theme of this year’s NASD is "Alcohol and Health: Where Do You Draw the Line?" It will, for example, provide materials for screening sites on how alcohol intake can be detrimental to the developing fetus, people who take certain medications, and the elderly.

Clifton Schermerhorn, M.D., an associate professor of family practice and psychiatry at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, Calif., is an expert on the ways in which alcohol affects the human body. He told Psychiatric News that he is concerned about recent publicity touting the benefits of alcohol that landed on the front page of newspapers throughout the country in mid-January under headlines such as "Daily Alcohol Use Cuts Risk of Heart Attack."

Results from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, an ongoing project based at the Harvard School of Public Health, found that drinking one or two glasses of wine, beer, or other type of alcohol a day significantly reduces the risk of heart attack.

"These messages can be very harmful to the public," said Schermerhorn. "We live in a world of sound bytes and headlines. The problem is that we see the headline and don’t read on."

Schermerhorn pointed out that the study on alcohol intake controlled for the heart only. "What we don’t see are the greater numbers of people placed at risk for alcoholism, liver damage, or cancer of the esophagus."

He said that he plans to screen "as many people as possible" for alcohol abuse and dependence on April 10.

Those who register to provide alcohol screening receive a publicity guide with recommendations for publicizing the screening that includes sample press releases and public service announcements, a procedure manual with instructions about how to implement the screening, and a kit of materials with screening forms, a video, educational flyers, and brochures.

Schermerhorn emphasized the unique niche that psychiatrists can fill in the alcohol screening project. "Alcoholism is an emotional and physiological disease, and only psychiatrists are trained to deal with both of these components—this is a disease that must be treated holistically."

Registration for NASD is free and can be completed online at www.mentalhealthscreening.org/alcohol.htm or by contacting the National Alcohol Screening Day office at (800) 253-7658.

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