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The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) just launched “Rethink the Drink,” an innovative statewide campaign to build healthier communities by calling attention to the harms caused by excessive alcohol drinking. Rethink the Drink asks people living in Oregon to consider the role of alcohol in their own lives and communities. Oregon is the first state in the country to launch a campaign of this scale, which will target adults aged 21 and older.
“Summer is often a busy time for events and occasions that are celebrated with excessive drinking, from festivals to weddings, river outings and BBQs. Our research shows people are ready to talk about drinking and the way alcohol affects our lives,” said Dr. Tom Jeanne, OHA’s Deputy State Health Officer and Deputy State Epidemiologist. “We have heard from many community groups that appreciate we are encouraging people to have healthy conversations about excessive alcohol use.”
People living in Oregon may be drinking excessively and not realize it.
The share of Oregon adults who drink excessively is bigger than most of us realize, more than 1 in 5. Most people in this group are not affected by alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder. However, by drinking excessively, people increase their odds of developing an alcohol use disorder later in life. It’s not just a problem for high school and college kids: people in their 30s and 40s binge drink at close to the same rates as younger people.
OHA uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of excessive alcohol use. Excessive drinking includes both heavy drinking and binge drinking:
- Heavy drinking, which can lead to chronic diseases and other problems over time, is 8 or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks per week for men.
- Binge drinking is consuming 4 or more drinks on one occasion for women or 5 or more drinks on one occasion for men.
The CDC numbers are different for men and women because their bodies process alcohol differently. However, it’s important to point out that the CDC numbers refer to cisgender males and females. “Cisgender” means that the gender you identify with matches the sex assigned to you at birth. When it comes to gender nonconforming individuals, more research is needed to assess the impact of excessive drinking. It's also true that for some people, drinking any alcohol is too much. And no matter who you are, drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.
“We need a new way to think about alcohol,” said Rachael Banks, MPA, OHA’s Public Health Director. “Many cross the line into drinking too much, partly because society makes it so easy. We aren’t telling people to stop drinking; we are asking that they pause for a moment, learn about how much drinking is harmful, and think about the way alcohol is prevalent in their lives and communities.”
During the pandemic, the policy environment changed across the nation and in Oregon to allow for cocktails to go and expanded home delivery of alcohol. “With those changes to Oregon law, the education environment and tools available must evolve too,” adds Dr. Reginald Richardson, Executive Director for the Oregon Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission. “That’s why this effort to start a new conversation about excessive alcohol use is so crucial.”
Data reveal the unjust harms of excessive drinking
National data show that alcohol consumption increased during the pandemic as people coped with the stress and changes to daily life caused by the virus. This was exacerbated as alcohol became more easily available due to policy changes. Certain populations experience more unjust stressors and disadvantages due to racism and discrimination, which has led to higher rates of alcohol-related harms. These include Black and Indigenous communities, as well as people with lower incomes and less education.
Excessive drinking causes health harms that include increased risks for cancer, liver failure, heart disease and depression. Beyond the health harms to the individual, excessive drinking affects the entire community, costing Oregon $4.8 billion per year from lost earnings for workers and revenue for businesses, health care expenses, criminal justice costs, and car crashes. That’s $1,100 for every person in Oregon, according to a report by ECONorthwest.
“We recognize that the alcohol industry provides thousands of jobs for Oregonians and that we make some of the world’s finest beers, wines and spirits,” added Dr. Jeanne. “At the same time, excessive drinking carries heavy costs for all of us, whether we drink or not. It affects everyone from children and families to businesses and taxpayers. This effort encourages people to consider whether we could be handling alcohol use in different ways than we are now.”
Rethink the Drink advances Healthier Together Oregon (HTO), the 2020–2024 State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP). HTO’s Behavioral Health priority strategies specific to alcohol and substance use can be found in Oregon’s Strategic Plan for Substance Use Services as developed by Alcohol and Drug Policy Commission.
Source: Oregon Health Authority