Alcohol awareness month: Getting help, figuring out if you have a problem


The opioid crisis has garnered a lot of attention in America lately, but another substance remains an issue, even if it doesn't make headlines — alcohol.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, which was founded and sponsored by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. According to the council's website, this month was created to "address the nation's No. 1 public health problem" through social media, awareness campaigns, programs and events.

"It's good to be aware of alcoholism. A few drinks may be normal, but once past that threshold where you can't be without alcohol, you're either in trouble or headed for trouble," said Shannon McCarthy, program director at the Berkshire Medical Center, McGee Unit (also known as the Recovery Center), in Pittsfield, Mass.

There are several ways to detect signs of alcoholism, and McCarthy suggests remembering the acronym, CAGE — cut down, annoyed, guilty and eye opener — for individuals who want to perform a self-assessment.

There is one question associated with each letter, the first: Have you ever felt that you should "cut down" on drinking? The following questions are: Have people ever "annoyed" you by criticizing your drinking?; Have you ever felt bad or "guilty" about your drinking?; Have you ever had a drink when you first opened your "eyes," or have your ever had a drink in the morning in attempt to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

"It is a simple assessment and any positive answers to those questions could identify that they are at risk of developing alcoholism," said McCarthy. "Several positive answers to those questions would likely signify that someone has already developed alcoholism."

Another sign of alcoholism, according to McCarthy, is a person who continues to consume despite negative consequences.

If someone thinks they are, or may be at risk of becoming, an alcoholic, she highly suggests seeking help, as alcoholism can have a negative impact on relationships, legal matters and health issues to the point of death.

For those who are dependent on alcohol, it can be dangerous to stop drinking "cold turkey." Some can become very sick and can experience deliria, tremors or seizures. McCarthy says a supervised detox at a facility or treatment center that is staffed with doctors and nurses trained in helping patients cope with the withdrawal symptoms is a good "first step."

Kurt L. White, director of Ambulatory Services at the Brattleboro Retreat and In-patient alcohol detox at the Brattleboro Retreat, said it is important to talk with someone if you struggle with alcoholism. He suggests speaking with a professional for assessment, or going to a family doctor for screening. Or, he said, at least start by talking to a trusted individual or other people going through recovery, such as connecting with an Alcoholics Anonymous recovery group.

White has worked at the Retreat for 10 years. He finds his work rewarding because people are able to make positive changes in their lives with the right help.

"Without treatment, alcoholism can lead to disease and death. There are personal consequences, as well as negative impacts to families and communities," White said. "The good news is, if we can raise awareness, they can get help, and when that happens there's positive change and recovery."

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275

Get help

Do you think you or someone you love may be at risk for alcoholism? Here are some area treatment centers that can offer help:

Berkshire County: Call the Berkshire Medical Intake Department at 413-445-9228 and press option one. If someone is in the middle of withdraw, he or she can also be immediately admitted to the emergency room.

Bennington County: Call the Turning Point Center of Bennington County at 802-442-9700 or visit Or contact United Counseling Service at

Windham County: Contact the Brattleboro Retreat and In-patient alcohol detox at the Brattleboro Retreat at 1-800-RETREAT.

For more information about alcohol awareness month, visit


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