Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Government Kicks Off New Alcohol Web Site

Will NIAAA site help identify problem drinkers?

Alcohol use exists on a spectrum, from occasional sippers to full-blown alcoholics. If you have ever asked yourself where, exactly, on the drinking spectrum your own alcohol use falls, a new government web site aims to help you answer that question.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) is making an effort to become more relevant and up-to-date by establishing a flashy new web site based on a revamped institutional philosophy. The idea, writes Melinda Beck of the Wall Street Journal , is to “help people recognize problems patterns earlier and catch themselves before they fall.”

Beck notes that the NIAAA web effort is a result of “a new understanding that there is a spectrum of alcohol-use disorders, which some experts hope will replace the current criteria for ‘abuse’ and ‘dependence.’”

The new site, called “Rethinking Drinking,” is a bit confusing to navigate at first. However, there is actually a wealth of information tucked away on the site. For example, people can compare their alcohol intake with the general population and with problem drinkers. There are “low-risk” drinking recommendations, an explanation of why women become intoxicated on less alcohol than men, and a list of medications that react negatively when combined with alcohol. Web surfers are also given a primer on “standard” drinks—some cocktails are equivalent to three standard drinks, and a bottle of wine counts as five glasses.

In the Wall Street Journal article, Mark Willenbring, NIAAA’s director of treatment and recovery research said that most people “don’t know what ‘drink responsibly’ means—they think it means not getting tanked. But there are levels of drinking that raise your risk for alcohol problems just like high cholesterol raises your risk for heart disease.” Low-risk drinking—no more than four drinks for men and 3 for women at a sitting, and no more than 14 drinkers a week for men and 7 drinks a week for women—can increase the risk of adverse events for people suffering from liver disease, heart arrhythmia, and bipolar disorder.

One little-known fact, according to the web site: Some 35 per cent of Americans don’t drink at all.

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