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Alcohol awareness: a challenge for faith community nurses.

The Alcohol Challenge

In 1987, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) first sponsored April as the month to educate Americans about this treatable and preventable disease. Since then the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, plus many other public and private national groups, have joined the effort to create awareness of a growing problem (NCADD, 2011). Alcoholism is a progressive disease that cuts across gender, race and socio-economic background and impacts the entire family, not only the behavioral and physical health of the alcoholic (Meara, 2011). In more recent years the NCADD has been urging all citizens, organizations, law enforcement, media and others to help stop underage drinking that has increased steadily. A recent national survey showed that nearly 11 million persons 12 to 20 years of age reported drinking the prior month. When teenagers become high school seniors, thirty percent are drinking heavily once a month (NCADD, 2011, p. 3).

The Effects of Alcohol

Alcoholism is a chronic disease in which one's body becomes dependent on alcohol. The alcoholic is characterized by excessive drinking, inability to stop drinking, and continued drinking despite social and occupational consequences that hurtfully impacts oneself and one's family (Mayo Clinic, 2011). The negative impact of teenage drinking can carry into adulthood (NCADD, 2011).

The Mayo Clinic (2011) staff states, "It's possible to have a problem with alcohol but not have all the symptoms of alcoholism. This is known as 'alcohol abuse,' which means you drink too much and it causes problems in your life although you aren't completely dependent on alcohol. If you have alcoholism or you abuse alcohol, you may not be able to cut back or quit without help. A number of approaches are available to help you recover from alcoholism, including medications, counseling and self-help groups" (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

The Mayo Clinic (2011) also identifies that short-term effects of alcohol include depression of the central nervous system that results in lowering inhibitions and interferes with judgment. Teenagers who drink alcohol are more likely to become involved in crime, car crashes, and assaults along with problems in school (NCADD, 20011). Long-term effects of excessive drinking include but are not limited to liver damage, gastrointestinal problems, bone loss, and high blood pressure.

Faith Community Nurse Experiences

Alcoholism is an illness that affects all family members. One of our Faith Community Nurses (FCN) at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Boise, Idaho has experienced the disruptions and painful ramifications of an alcoholic family member. Treatment helped the family member to recover. As a result of her experience, she listed on our parish website the key questions that family members should ask of themselves if they are being negatively affected by alcohol. We also included a question on a recent parish survey about the effects of alcohol on families.

In November of 2010 we distributed a parish survey at St. John's Cathedral. The question was asked: "Is your family negatively affected by alcohol?" Eight hundred and forty-two (842) people answered that question: Sometimes affected = 21% (N 177); Always affected = 3% (N 25); and Never affected = 76% (N 640). Although the number of families being affected by alcohol seems relatively low, any number of families with affirmative responses presents a concern.

Fortunately, in the same survey we asked if anyone would like to help us with our health ministry. A physician responded who indicated that he has recovered from alcohol and drug addiction and offered to counsel parishioners who asked for help. He had completed treatment at the Betty Ford Center. This was a great invitation for two parishioners who asked in the survey to talk to a Parish Nurse. They were seeking help for problems with alcohol and drugs. They were referred to the physician who also agreed to start a support group if the need was indicated. He recommended Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon as resources for alcoholics and family members respectively.

Helpful Resources

Physical and emotional issues and consequences not only affect the alcoholic, but also affect people who love them. Relatives and friends must take care of themselves by seeking advice and support. Therapist, doctors, social workers and clergy will help. Information on Alcoholics Anonymous can be found on Along with professionals, another support source is Al-Anon Family Groups. These groups are in most communities. To find an Al-Anon or Alateen meeting, one can call 1-888-425-2666 Monday Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p. m. ET. Or a person may go to the website:

Faith Community Nurses' Challenge

Faith Community Nurses are in positions where they can spread the words of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence: "Together, We Can Stop Underage Drinking." Alcoholism should not be ignored. It is not only destructive to the alcoholic; it also causes pain and disruption to each person close to the abuser. The month of April is the time to create the awareness of the disease and to use our resources to meet the challenge.

By Faith Community Nurses Betty Heaton, RN, BA and Dorothy Witmer, EdD, RN St. John's Cathedral, Boise, Idaho


Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. (2010). Parish Survey. Boise, ID: Author.

Mayo Clinic. (2011). Alcoholism. Retrieved from

Meara, C. (2011) April Alcohol Awareness Month. Retrieved from 5/cranbury_press

National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (2011). Retrieved from /community_action_guide_2005

How can I recognize the effects of someone else's drinking in my life? (From Al-Anon)

We can easily recognize how alcohol affects the drinker. It's not as easy for family and friends to recognize how the drinker's behavior has affected them. These questions can help you identify the effects of someone else's drinking. If you answer "yes" to any of these questions, Al-Anon Family Groups may be able to help.

For more information, please visit the website of l-Anon at

Do you worry about how much someone else drinks?

Do you have money problem because of someone else's drinking?

Do you tell lies to cover up for someone else's drinking?

Do you feel that if the drinker cared about you, he or she would stop drinking to please you? Are plans frequently upset or canceled because of the drinker?

Do you make threats, such as, "If you don't stop drinking, I'll leave you"?

Are you afraid to upset someone for fear it will set off a drinking bout?

Have you been hurt or embarrassed by a drinker's behavior? Do you search for hidden alcohol?

Have you refused social invitations out of fear or anxiety?

Do you think that if the drinker stopped drinking,

your other problems would be solved? Do you feel like a failure because you can't control the drinking?

If your answer is "YES" to any of the above questions: There is help! There is hope! There is Al-Anon!
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Author:Heaton, Betty; Witmer, Dorothy
Publication:Parish Nurse Perspectives
Date:Mar 22, 2011
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