By Madeline Reinert, MHA Policy and Programs Associate
There are many reasons people drink alcohol, whether it be to relax, have fun, or escape life’s stressors and frustrations. A lot of people indulge in alcohol safely, but it can also be incredibly risky, and if it starts to negatively impact your life, it may be a sign that you are developing an alcohol use problem or dependence. When individuals begin to wonder if their drinking is normal or signs of a problem, many of them turn to MHA’s screening tools to seek answers.
MHA reviewed its Alcohol or Substance Use screening data from 2018, looking at our screeners who indicated that alcohol was the substance they were most concerned about, to learn more about them and figure out how we may be able to help.
In 2018, over half of the 12,000 people who took the Alcohol or Substance Use screen reported that they were concerned about their alcohol use. Over 60 percent said that other people had expressed they were concerned about their drinking, and over 80 percent said that they also felt they should cut down on it. People who took the screen to find out about their alcohol use were also more likely to score “at risk” for a substance use problem than screeners concerned about other substances – over 8 out of 10 screened at risk for an alcohol problem.
Alcohol is also intricately tied to mental health. People who screened at risk for an alcohol problem were both more likely to have received mental health treatment in the past, and to currently be receiving mental health treatment. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, people with a history of alcohol abuse or dependence were two to three times more likely to have an anxiety disorder and were four times more at risk of having a major depressive episode.  But it isn’t always clear whether alcohol use worsens mental health conditions, or vice versa. Alcohol is often used to “self-medicate” feelings of anxiety or depression. Or is used as a coping mechanism for trauma or stress, to dull the thoughts or feelings people are experiencing. Nearly one out of every three people who took a screen for alcohol use identified as a trauma survivor, 9 percent were veterans, and another 9 percent were caregivers of someone living with emotional or physical illness - all of which were higher than we generally see from people taking a mental health screen on MHAScreening.org.
Fortunately, alcohol and substance use are treatable, and like other physical and mental health conditions, addressing a problem with alcohol early can greatly improve recovery. Thirty percent of people who took an alcohol screen reported that they would discuss their results with another person, and another 20 percent wanted to find additional information about alcohol use online.
If you are worried that your drinking may be a problem, please don’t wait. Explore information about addiction online, read about others’ experiences at Inspire, Lyf, or Reach Out. Talk to your primary care provider, a therapist or counselor that specializes in substance use, or even a trusted friend about your concerns or how to get treatment. If you’re not sure where to start with that conversation, this article on how to tell someone about your addiction can help. If you’re concerned about another mental health condition, try taking a free, confidential, online screen.
If you are concerned that someone you know may have an alcohol or substance use problem, talk to them about it. Remember that over 6 in 10 people who took the alcohol screen reported that someone had expressed a concern. Try to be as supportive and understanding as you can. By letting the person know you care about their well-being, they will be more willing to get the help they need. For more help with how to approach someone you feel may be abusing alcohol or other substances, you can get tips here.
 “Other Psychiatric Disorders.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/special-populations-co-occurring-disorders/other-psychiatric-disorders.