Ralph Castro talks to BeWell about alcohol in adulthood

Ralph Castro
Ralph Castro

BeWell has been shining a spotlight on issues of addiction. Alcohol dependency in adults is often undiagnosed and ignored by both the victim and friends and family members. To gain greater understanding, BeWell spoke with RALPH CASTRO, associate dean of students and director of Stanford’s Office of Alcohol Policy and Education.

There is on ongoing discussion about underage drinking on campus. Should we consider extending that conversation to faculty and staff?

Absolutely. Alcohol abuse is not just a problem for college students. It is a major public health issue that impacts millions of Americans and their families. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that alcohol abuse drains the U.S. economy by nearly $250 billion a year. These costs are due to crime, reduced workplace productivity (because of hangovers) and the price of treating people for health issues caused by over-drinking. Moreover, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Mothers Against Drunk Driving, thousands of lives are lost each year due to drinking and driving accidents. No matter what your age, you need to be responsible and make good decisions with alcohol.

Drinking alcohol is often equated with “unwinding” and “fun” in adulthood. Is it important that we begin to peel those things apart?

Anytime we use a substance to escape, we need to ask why. I often say that you can have fun with and without alcohol, but you need to be in control of how you define the outcome. Relaxing and unwinding are fine, but if alcohol becomes the only way that someone can relax, then that can be problematic. In our culture, alcohol dominates the social scene for adults. For most people, it isn’t an issue; but for many, it can lead to dependency and other problems. Being able to define fun without alcohol is an important skill to learn and practice

For those who suspect they may be drinking too often, but aren’t sure they have a problem, what do you recommend?

We don’t spend much time educating the population on “social and responsible drinking” — which is mostly a slogan without much behind it. Most education focuses on stopping drinking altogether and the problems associated with dependency. We need to be better at occupying that space between those extremes and having honest conversations about moderation and responsibility. I often see that people develop bad habits related to drinking because they have engaged in trial-and-error learning. Education is the key.

If people think that they have developed an alcohol problem, then I strongly suggest they take a break from drinking. I call it a “drinking holiday” — a period of time without alcohol. Let your body and mind reset and see how an extended period of time without alcohol plays out. If it is difficult, then perhaps a bigger issue might be at hand, suggesting you could benefit from professional help. At Stanford, that begins at the Faculty Staff Help Center, where you can meet with a counselor to talk, listen and assess. Bear in mind that all of our insurance programs offer alcohol and drug counseling and treatment benefits.

Read the entire interview on the BeWell website.