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What’s behind the growing trend of booze-free events?

During her years as a reporter in Washington, D.C. in the 1980s, Jayne O’Donnell says she was averaging two bottles of wine per day.

“I was working on Capitol Hill in the 1980s — it’s no accident the early ’80s were the peak of alcohol use. People were drinking regularly at lunch… I got to the point where I was able to, with the job covering Capitol Hill, continue the college type of drinking,” O’Donnell said.

It got so bad that she went on live television blackout drunk. O’Donnell eventually quit drinking altogether, and in her new article for USA Today, she explores the growing trend of alcohol-free events. She writes, “From booze-less bars to substance-free zones at concerts marked by yellow balloons, sober spots are popping up across the nation in reaction to America’s alcohol-soaked culture, promising a healthy alternative for people in recovery and those who simply want to drink less.”

According to the CDC, alcohol is estimated to be responsible for about 88,000 deaths per year — more than overdoses from all other drugs combined. Drinking has been woven into the fabric of our society, making moderation difficult even when necessary.

“Unfortunately, in this country a lot of people do have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol. In fact, three out of 10 Americans have an unhealthy relationship. It’s the third leading cause of preventable death,” said CBS News medical contributor Dr. Tara Narula.

Binge drinking is defined as more than four drinks in one sitting for a woman and more than five drinks for a man.

“I think understanding the risks and having an open conversation about that is important. People need to understand that there are short-term risks — things like injuries, accidents, alcohol poisoning, risky sexual behavior — and then are long-term risks. It can increase the risk of high blood pressure, liver disease, pancreatitis, and certain cancers which we don’t often talk about: mouth cancer, laryngeal cancer, esophageal cancer, breast cancer,” Narula said.

O’Donnell believes if she hadn’t quit drinking she could have easily lost her life to alcohol because of her own history with heart disease.

“I learned from my experience that it could have been me. I would have been one of the people who would have died of alcohol,” she said. “I saw two women in my own town, my age with high school kids, drank themselves to death in McLean, Virginia. … If you need alcohol to get through the day — and a reporter once said to me ‘I don’t know how you do this job without drinking,’ meaning, you know, after work — that’s a bad sign. You need to be able to make adjustments in your work life.”

If you or a loved one needs help, you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline. That number is 1-800-662-HELP.


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