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by Abigail Van Buren

Screening Day Examines How Alcohol Affects Health

DEAR ABBY: I applaud your recent columns on alcohol abuse. But how much do your readers really know about alcohol and health? The importance of becoming educated about alcohol cannot be emphasized enough. On April 10, National Alcohol Screening Day, Americans can learn about alcohol and their health, and assess if they're engaging in risky drinking practices.

The Screening Day message puts it simply: "Alcohol and your health: Where do you draw the line?" Each of us needs to know just where that line is. Alcohol misuse comes with a devastatingly high cost. The annual dollar amount is estimated to be $185 billion in the United States. The emotional cost to individuals and their families is immeasurable.

Our studies show that nearly one-third of adults engage in risky drinking patterns. Our 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse found that 13.4 million Americans -- 5.9 percent of the population -- meet the diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence or abuse. Ninety-one percent of these people do not realize they have a problem.

For these reasons, I hope your readers will attend local alcohol education and screening programs in their own communities on April 10. On that day, health programs and agencies, colleges and universities, senior centers and community organizations nationwide will offer education and screening programs for Americans of all ages. They will have the opportunity to find out more about alcohol and their health and to complete a brief, anonymous, alcohol screening questionnaire to assess if they are risky drinkers.

Please encourage your readers to learn more about National Alcohol Screening Day, Abby. By sharing this information with them, you are making an important contribution to our commitment to promote safe and healthy lives for all. -- TOMMY G. THOMPSON, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES

DEAR SECRETARY THOMPSON: Because people occasionally overindulge in drinking does not automatically mean they are alcoholics. However, it is to everyone's advantage to know the difference and to recognize the warning signs. This is certainly a subject worth educating oneself about. To learn more about National Alcohol Screening Day, call toll-free (800) 763-1200 or visit www.nationalalcoholscreeningday.org.