A Worldwide Initiative: International Overdose Awareness Day

Last Updated on August 26, 2021

overdose awareness
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon for unsplash

On August 31, we observe International Overdose Awareness Day (IOAD).

Begun in 2001 in Melbourne, Australia, IOAD is an annual, worldwide initiative1 with multiple goals: to raise awareness of drug overdoses, to commemorate those who have lost their lives, and to encourage conversation about the issue. Additionally, the effort aims to reduce the stigma of seeking help for addiction and mental illness—to help avoid overdoses in the first place.

Since 2012, the campaign has been coordinated by the Penington Institute2, a non-for-profit organization also based in Australia.

What Is Harm Reduction?

In avoiding an overdose, one of the underlying principles is harm reduction. In the case of alcohol, this means acknowledging that some people are going to drink heavily, even when doing so is against their own best interests.

For people who are drinking too much, getting help is possible while they are still alive. They can cut back on alcohol, or stop altogether—usually with some professional counseling and medication.

But if someone dies from an overdose, that’s the end of it.

Alcohol Poisoning Is a Form of Overdose

Alcohol poisoning is a form of overdose, and can be fatal. According to the NIAAA3, “An alcohol overdose occurs when there is so much alcohol in the bloodstream that areas of the brain controlling basic life-support functions—such as breathing, heart rate, and temperature control—begin to shut down.”

How much alcohol causes this? It varies from person to person. Factors to consider include age, gender, and whether food is consumed while drinking.

alcohol poisoning
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It’s also crucial to consider medications a person is already taking, some of which do not mix well with alcohol. Benzodiazepines, popular with many people, are especially dangerous. But even over-the-counter antihistamines put people at risk when mixed with alcohol.

Tragic stories of alcohol poisoning are everywhere. In 2018, an Ohio University student died after a night of extreme hazing that included drinking. More recently, in March 2021, a sophomore at Bowling Green State University died after a similar ritual4 got out of control.

According to a 2015 article5 in The Washington Post, six people die every day from alcohol poisoning. And these are usually the result of binge drinking. For some people, this means eight drinks in a single evening.

An Event Now Recognized Worldwide

Though begun in Australia, the movement has spread worldwide. State and local governments6 around the United States have jumped on the bandwagon, often with their own websites or pages7 devoted to the issue.

Other organizations have also amplified the event, such as the National Safety Council8, the American Public Health Association9, Students for Sensible Drug Policy10, and International Doctors for Healthier Drug Policies11.

Overdose awareness
Photo by JJ Jordan for unsplash

What You Can Do

You can help publicize IOAD with tips from overdoseday.com, which includes graphics, hashtags (like #EndOverdose), and other materials.

Part of the observance is sharing grief. The IOAD website offers people the chance to create memorial tributes for friends and family members.

And one of the best ways to avoid an overdose is to cut down on drinking. At Ria, we affirm principles of harm reduction. Abstinence is the preferred choice for some people, but for others, the goal is to drink more moderately.

Above all, we want you with us, living your best life.


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