Alcohol is STILL a Drug

April was first designated as Alcohol Awareness Month in 1987 to increase public awareness about the prevention and treatment of alcohol use disorder—which remains a tenacious public health concern in the U.S. 

For decades, substance use disorder (SUD) treatment focused on alcohol use disorder (Kinney, 2021). 

“Gradually, other substances such as freebase cocaine, crack cocaine, methamphetamines, heroin, oxycontin, and fentanyl surpassed alcohol as the primary focus,” said Mark Sanders, program manager for the Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC. “We learned that SUD progresses much more quickly with these drugs than with alcohol. To use an analogy, ’Alcohol destroys your house slowly, like termites. Crack, methamphetamines, and heroin destroy your house quickly like a fire. Fire grabs everyone's attention!’" 

Thus, the media, the court system, the criminal justice system, the child welfare system, hospitals, and Hollywood shifted their attention from alcohol to other drugs, even as alcohol continued to kill 95,000 Americans every year, making it the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States

Alcohol Awareness Month ribbon

Alcohol misuse often co-occurs with other SUD: a majority of individuals who die of opioid overdose are found to have alcohol in their system at the time of death (Hart, 2022). 

And recent data indicate that alcohol-related deaths increased 25 percent from 2019 to 2020. See the CNN news item: Alcohol-related deaths in the US spiked more than 25% in the first year of the pandemic, study shows

To shift the focus back to problem alcohol use, The Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC launched the “Alcohol is STILL a Drug” webinar series to kick off Recovery Month in September 2021. 

“When we set about planning this series, we felt that it was important because alcohol, while still the most commonly abused substance, maybe less lethal in people's minds as other drugs take center stage,” said Laura Saunders, program manager for the Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, and PTTC. 

The 30-minute sessions air on the first Tuesday of the month at 10 a.m. CT. Series topics have included: 

View the “Alcohol is STILL a Drug” playlist on the Great Lakes Current YouTube Channel. 

Upcoming sessions include: 

Please join us in the months ahead as we continue to examine alcohol and its impact on individuals, families, and communities. 

Related Resources


Talk, They Hear You: Underage drinking prevention campaign 


Alcohol Use and Your Health 


NIAAA Alcohol Treatment Navigator 

Selected Resources from across the ATTC Network:

Great Lakes ATTC: 

Alcohol Awareness Card 

Infographic: Pharmacology for Treatment AUD 

Alcohol is STILL a DRUG YouTube Playlist

Mountain Plains ATTC 

National Hispanic and Latino ATTC

Alcohol Use and Abuse During Covid 19 (Available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese)

Northwest PTTC


Hart, C. Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in The Land of Fear. Penguin Books. (2022). New York, NY

Kinney, J. Loosening the Grip: A Handbook of Alcohol Information (Kindle Edition, 2021). Outskirts Press, Parker, Co.

About the author

Maureen Fitzgerald is communications manager for the Behavioral Health Excellence-Technical Assistance Center (BHE-TAC), based at the Center for Health Enhancement Systems Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also oversees communications activities for the Great Lakes ATTC, MHTTC, PTTC, and NIATx.

Five Obstacles to Providing Substance Use & Mental Health Services for Black Americans

Black people in the United States have rates of mental health conditions and substance use comparable to the general population. Yet outcomes for Black/African American people are poorer overall compared to the general population.

A recent study found that older Black men were dying of opioid overdose at a rate four times greater than the overall opioid overdose fatality rate. 

In partnership with the African American Behavioral Health Center of Excellence, the National Council for Mental Wellbeing has developed a white paper to assist with understanding the health disparities that exist in the access, engagement, utilization and outcomes for B/AAs seeking specialty mental health and substance use treatment services.

Located within the Morehouse School of Medicine’s National Center for Primary Care, the AABHCOE will use innovative, evidence-based, culturally aligned systems-change, workforce development, technology transfer and collaborative national partnerships to eliminate disparities and promote mental health and substance use treatment and health equity for African Americans. 

Five obstacles to providing substance use and mental health services for Black Americans report cover

The white paper focuses on five key findings that emerged from focus groups, as well as potential solutions. 

Challenges facing Black/African Americans in Mental Health/Substance Use Treatment:

1. Lack of Resources/Social Determinants of Health

2. System/Financial Barriers

3. Lack of Focus on Prevention and Education

4. Lack of staffing

5. Trauma

Lack of resources

“The B/AA community is disproportionately impacted by issues such as poverty, incarceration, transportation, underserved schools, environmental exposures, insurance coverage, adequate housing and other social determinants of health,” the white paper states. 

The lack of resources makes accessing and maintaining mental health and substance use services more difficult and lead to poorer outcomes. The effects can be even worse in rural areas.

The white paper suggests prioritizing building grant-writing infrastructure, as well as increasing use and capacity for telehealth services. It also proposes working with and embedding mental health and substance use providers in existing community organizations, like faith-based institutions.

System/Financial Barriers

“Structural barriers exist both in the financing of mental health and substance use services and the location of services which can have significant effects on access to care,” the white paper states. 

Solutions should include greater incentives for the provision of care in under-resourced communities, and expansion of substance use and mental health services in non-traditional settings.

Lack of focus on Prevention/Education

“The importance of prevention and early intervention before the exacerbation of symptoms was emphasized by all participants,” the white paper stated. “This lack of prevention and early intervention services can lead to B/AAs accessing care in in the most expensive and trauma inducing ways such as emergency rooms, hospitals and criminal justice settings.”

Solutions include prioritizing prevention and education efforts, as well as screening for mental and substance use challenges in non-traditional settings. Find out more information about the latest in prevention research and education at The Prevention Technology Transfer Center’s website.  

Lack of staffing

“The failure of service providers to bridge this cultural divide can contribute to discontinuation of treatment among B/AAs,” the white paper stated. “Engagement of patients during treatment can be a difficult task and the lack of well- trained professionals skilled in working with diverse populations certainly contributes to this problem.”

Solutions include increasing investments in recruiting and retaining B/AA providers in the mental health and substance use field, greater use of peer support specialists, and better supervision around cultural competencies.


“Historical trauma and current-day injustice can affect perceived psychological safety in treatment and impact long-term recovery,” the white paper stated. “Addressing historical trauma was a solution mentioned during the interviews as many cited examples of racial trauma having detrimental psychological effects on people and their communities.”

Solutions include providing additional training on trauma-informed approaches to care, and utilizing family-centered treatment models. 

You can read the full white paper here. Additional resources and TTA may be obtained from the following organizations:

By Greg Grisolano, for the ATTC Network.