Alcohol Awareness

Written by: Nate Schwartz, MD

The month of April typically marks the beginning of spring with budding trees, sprouting flowers and many people starting to make plans for graduation parties and summer gatherings.  In many cultures, these celebrations often include alcoholic beverages.  April is also National Alcohol Awareness month, the opportunity to bring to light the dangers of unhealthy alcohol consumption. I smiled a little bit when asked to write an article about this, being that there aren’t many people living in Wisconsin who aren’t aware of alcohol! Alcohol consumption is part of the culture in Wisconsin. 64.4% of adults in Wisconsin currently drink alcohol, and of the 50 US states, this is second only to New Hampshire at 64.6%. Unfortunately, one of the things that comes with higher rates of drinking is higher rates of the troubles that come from drinking. In 2021 there were over 35,000 Emergency room visits in Wisconsin attributed to chronic alcohol conditions and 2,629 deaths attributed to alcohol use. These numbers have both been trending upwards over the last 10 years (WI Dept of Health Services 2022).  In addition, I think that we all can think of a person we know who, though they don’t have health problems from drinking alcohol, have had personal relationship problems, employment issues, or legal troubles caused by too much alcohol consumption.

In many cases it’s possible to reduce the negative impact of alcohol consumption by knowing the facts and following some limits. One limit is to drink alcohol at a “moderate drinking” level or less. Moderate drinking is defined by not more than one standard drink a day for women and not more than 2 standard drinks a day for men. Another limit to be aware of is how “excessive drinking” is defined. There are two different components of excessive drinking, binge drinking and heavy alcohol use. Binge drinking is drinking to intoxication, or a blood alcohol level of 0.08%, which is also the legal limit for driving. For a typical adult, this corresponds to consuming 4 or more drinks for women or 5 drinks for men in about 2 hours. Heavy alcohol use is consuming more than 4 drinks a day for men or more than 3 drinks a day for women. These limits have been identified because when drinking exceeds these, it has been proven that the negative effects of alcohol increase.

There is a large range of responses to alcohol, and some groups of people should avoid alcohol consumption entirely. These include people under 21, people who are pregnant, people with medical conditions like liver disease that are worsened by alcohol consumption, or people with alcohol use disorder.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a medical term that encompasses what we’ve called alcohol abuse, alcohol addiction, alcohol dependence or alcoholism in the past. It’s a brain disorder that is identified by an impaired ability to stop or control alcohol use despite having negative consequences from alcohol use (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism 2021). AUD is a chronic medical condition and has similarities to other chronic medical conditions. There are things that increase the change of developing AUD. Just as if heart attacks or diabetes runs in your family, you’re at an increased risk of developing these conditions; if problems with alcohol use run in your family, you’re at an increased risk of developing AUD. Just like we have treatment and medications for other chronic medical conditions, there are treatment and medication options for AUD.

Treatment options for AUD include individual counseling, group programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, SMART Recovery, and medications. Some medications make people have a bad reaction if they consume alcohol, and some influence the addiction pathways we have in our brains making it easier to stop drinking or drink less.

Substance use, including alcohol use, is something that can have a great impact on your health. One of the ways Western Wisconsin Health is working to improve the health of the communities we serve is by partnering with St. Croix County on providing treatment for people with opioid use disorder. We are in the process of developing a program that incorporates both medication for opioid use disorder as well as counseling to help support people with opioid use disorder in achieving their health goal and prevent the negative social and health outcomes that are seen with ongoing illicit opioid use.

If you have questions or concerns about your alcohol or opioid use, even if you don’t think you’re ready to stop, talk to your family’s doctor or other healthcare provider. It is vital to have a trusted source of accurate medical information as you make decisions about your health, and any of the providers at Western Wisconsin Health would be honored to be that source of information.   For more information or to schedule an appointment with a provider today please call 715-684-1111.  Western Wisconsin Health, building a healthier tomorrow, together.


National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. 2021. Understanding Alcohol Use Disorder. April.

WI Dept of Health Services. 2022. Alcohol Use in Wisconsin. November 13.