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Alcohol Screening Day Will Aim to Help Those in Need

Treatment: As part of nationwide program that debuts Thursday, sites will teach about dangers of drinking and how to start working toward recovery.

April 05, 1999|ROSIE MESTEL | TIMES HEALTH WRITER

If you're worried--or just wondering--if you or a loved one drinks too much, this Thursday you'll be able to find out. Free of charge and with absolute anonymity.

All you have to do is show up at one of many centers in Southern California for the first National Alcohol Screening Day. Hundreds of other sites nationwide are also participating.

At these sites--which include hospitals, clinics and colleges--participants can learn from talks, videos and booklets about the dangers of alcohol abuse and about treatments. They can complete a written questionnaire to better understand whether they have a drinking problem. And they can discuss the results of the questionnaire with an experienced alcohol-abuse counselor, who can advise them on what to do next, and refer them for treatment, if necessary.

Anyone interested (including people who simply want to learn more about alcohol's effects) may call (800) 405-9200 to locate the center closest to their home. Or on the Web they can learn more at http://www.niaaa.nih.gov or http://www.nmisp.org.

Why this effort?

"Because alcohol--except for tobacco--is perhaps the biggest drug problem in this country in terms of the toll it takes," says Dr. Enoch Gordis, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in Bethesda, Md. "We're hoping to draw at least some people with this problem into some sort of intervention, so they can stop destroying their own lives and the lives of people around them."

It's estimated that nearly 14 million Americans have some kind of alcohol-related problem, be it excessive drinking, out-and-out alcoholism or sporadic risky behaviors such as binge-drinking. And the toll--from alcohol poisoning, drunk driving, liver damage, risky sexual behavior, violence and more--is enormous.

"In many ways, alcohol kills more people and costs more than all the illegal drugs put together," Gordis says.

National Alcohol Screening Day is sponsored by a variety of groups, including the alcoholism institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a philanthropic health-care group. It is a program of the National Mental Illness Screening Project, a Boston nonprofit organization that conducts several other national screening days, such as ones for depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

The depression screening day, held each year since 1991, has been very successful, says Barbara Kopans, associate director of the national screening project. Each year, the number of participants has grown. And more than half the people who score positive for depression go on to seek treatment.

Organizers have similar hopes for alcohol day.

"Many people reach a point where they're on the verge of being ready for treatment," Kopans says. "We feel that this kind of nonthreatening anonymous program--at no cost, with no commitment--will provide the kind of boost many people need to take the first step."

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