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Thursday is Alcohol Screening Day - Diane Wagner

On Sunday and Monday "Dear Abby" dealt with alcoholism, so I may as well put my two cents in for Tuesday.

As many as one-third of the people in this country could be at-risk drinkers, according to a study by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.

A sidelight I found interesting is that about 80 percent of problem drinkers are employed.

It's an axiom in Alcoholics Anonymous that people who need help rarely ask for it until they hit rock bottom. Another truism is that alcoholism is a progressive disease, which means that having a job this year doesn't guarantee having one in the future.

That's one of the reasons the NIAAA and other agencies are sponsoring free, anonymous screening for alcohol problems at nearly 4,000 sites around the country on Thursday.

The Web site, at NationalScreeningDay.com, lists two doctors in the immediate area who volunteered to participate in the national event. Call Dr. Daniel Serritella of Jonesboro at (770) 478-7802 or Dr. Howard S. Ellis of Conyers at (770) 922-8222 for an appointment. For other screening sites, call 1-800-405-9200.

In addition to analysis of a written questionnaire, clients will also get information on the health consequences of at-risk drinking, the opportunity to discuss personal risk and, if needed, referral to a treatment program.

This program is not aimed at getting people to stop drinking. In fact, studies have shown that a moderate use of alcohol, especially red wine, is often beneficial and decreases the risk of heart problems.

The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiological Survey that found a third of our adults may be at risk used pretty reasonable cut-off points. They were no more than 14 drinks a week or four on a single day, for men and no more than seven drinks a week or three on one day for women. You can still party pretty well on that.

And there's a difference between people who occasionally choose to "go over the limit" and those who can't seem to help themselves. The difference is that they can't help themselves.

Unfortunately, denial can be devastating and even deadly, according to Charles Curie, administrator of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

"Too many Americans realize too late that alcohol misuse can lead to incredible losses; lost family, lost friends, lost jobs and opportunities, lost lives," he said in urging adults to take time this week to examine their habits.

For some, an assessment on Thursday could be the key to rethinking a lifestyle that is slowly spiraling out of control. Others may find it easier to sit quietly in the back of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting to see if anyone tells a story similar to their own.

There are more than 1,100 AA meetings each week in the Atlanta area and a 24-hour hotline for locations is (404) 525-3178. The Web site www.aaageorgia.org lists eight groups in Henry County and 12 groups in Clayton County. There are some daytime options, but most are at night after everyone gets home from work.

Diane Wagner covers county government for the Daily Herald. She can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or dwagner@henryherald.com.