Oregon asks everyone to Rethink the Drink

Rethink the Drink logo

Quick Summary

Today Place Matters Oregon (PMO) looks at Oregon’s new Rethink the Drink campaign. You may have seen some of the ads online, on social media, over the radio, in newspapers or on television. There is also a website that explains excessive drinking, how excessive consumption harms health and provides resources to help.

Tatiana Dierwechter, Interim Section Manager, Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) talks about why this effort is important for Oregon.

We’re all enjoying the arrival of summer at last. And with the great weather and longer days, there’s more time to socialize and celebrate occasions from weddings and reunions to backyard barbecues and outings to the beach, often by drinking alcohol. Yet, we may not think about how much we drink as being harmful.

Excessive alcohol drinking isn’t harmless. That’s why OHA launched “Rethink the Drink,” a new innovative statewide campaign to build healthier communities by reducing the harms excessive alcohol use causes. Simply put, Rethink the Drink aims to change the conversation about drinking excessively. Rethink the Drink asks people living in Oregon to consider the role of alcohol in their own lives and communities.


I came to OHA after working on prevention programs at Benton County Public Health Department. In this role, I saw first-hand the harms caused by alcohol and other drugs in communities including college students, rural communities, low-income communities and persons experiencing housing instability.

Certain populations experience more unjust stressors and disadvantages due to racism, discrimination and industry targeting, which has led to higher rates of binge drinking and alcohol-related harms.

We all can think of a family member, friend or co-worker who has had problems with alcohol dependence but what we don’t realize is many of us, more than 1 in 5, drink excessively and don’t know it. Most people in this group are not affected by alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder.

Personally, just before the pandemic, I experienced first-hand the harm caused by excessive alcohol use when I was hit by an alcohol-impaired driver while crossing the street. I understand the steep costs of alcohol-related harm to me and my family. And I know I am not alone. Our communities are bearing the burden of harms from excessive alcohol use and it’s greater than we might expect.

What is excessive alcohol use*?

Excessive Drinking: OHA uses the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition of excessive alcohol use. Excessive drinking includes both heavy drinking and binge drinking.

Heavy Drinking: Heavy drinking, the kind that can harm your health long-term, is 15 drinks or more a week for a man. For a woman, it’s eight drinks.

Binge Drinking: Binge drinking is when a man has five or more standard drinks in one setting or occasion. For women, it’s four or more drinks.

*The CDC numbers defining excessive drinking are different for men and women because their bodies process alcohol differently. However, it’s important to point out that the CDC numbers refer to cisgender males and females. “Cisgender” means that the gender you identify with matches the sex assigned to you at birth. When it comes to gender nonconforming individuals, more research is needed to assess the impact of excessive drinking. It’s also true that for some people, drinking any alcohol is too much. And no matter who you are, drinking less is better for your health than drinking more.

A tapestry of efforts to reduce the harm of excessive alcohol use

I like to describe this challenge like a quilt; we’re sewing a tapestry of many different elements, and this campaign is one piece of fabric we’re binding together to make a difference. All the other pieces of fabric, fiber and yarn are important too—our partners, community leaders, funders, new champions we’ll cultivate from Rethink the Drink—we need all of them to come together, over the long term, to reduce both the individual and community harms caused by excessive alcohol use.

Here are some of the harms to health that people may not know:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption is the No. 3 preventable cause of death (after tobacco use and obesity), increasing the risk for cancer, liver failure, heart disease and depression.
  • Binge drinking increases the risk for high blood pressure and strokes.
  • Regular, heavy drinking increases your risk for liver disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer.

Health consequences can stack up

two people surrounded by human organs: prostate, colon, heart, head, brain, breasts and liver

  • Prostate cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • High blood pressure, strokes and heart disease
  • Cancers of the head and neck
  • Depression, anxiety and memory loss
  • Breast cancer
  • Three types of liver disease

Increased drinking during the pandemic

In Oregon, the rate of death directly due to alcohol increased substantially (21%) during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic (2019 to 2020). We’re also learning about the role excessive alcohol use plays in leading to alcohol use disorders, drug overdoses as well as pedestrian and traffic deaths.

During the pandemic, policies changed across the nation and in Oregon to allow for cocktails-to-go and expanded home delivery of alcohol. With those changes to Oregon law, our education and tools must evolve too. That’s why this campaign to start a new conversation about excessive alcohol use is so crucial.

Oregon’s alcohol producing industry is important

Many of us cross the line into drinking too much, partly because society makes it so easy. We recognize that Oregon makes some of the world’s finest beers, wines and spirits and the value of these businesses add to the state’s economy, culture and identity. Yet, at the same time, we also recognize that excessive drinking carries heavy costs for all of us, whether we drink or not. It affects everyone from children and families to businesses and their employees. We are simply asking that people pause for a moment and think about the way alcohol affects their own lives and communities.


Rethink the Drink advances Healthier Together Oregon

This new campaign is aligned with the highest priorities across the state to reduce harms and improve health. It also delivers on Oregon’s important strategies specific to alcohol and substance use. Just as the Public Health Department at OHA co-developed this campaign with a statewide steering committee representing diverse partners, we will explore creating extensions of this campaign with other communities who have unique and local needs. This may include people experiencing houselessness, communities of color, the LGBTQ+ community, the recovery community or others. Truly, every sector of our state could benefit from this effort, including healthcare, housing, transportation, education and economic development.

I’m honored to be part of this historic moment for Rethink the Drink to start the conversation. Please join us!

Elements of the Rethink the Drink campaign include:

  • Website: rethinkthedrink.com
  • Statewide TV, radio, digital and print advertisements
  • Facebook and Instagram pages
  • Information for County Health Departments and community-based organizations to localize the campaign for their communities

Do you know someone who might be interested in partnering with Rethink the Drink? Please help us spread the news about this brand and its important message. A huge thank you to the many partners who worked to bring this brand into existence. Rethink the Drink wouldn’t be here without you!

If you or someone you care about is suffering from alcohol dependence or an alcohol use disorder, free resources and support are available online.

Tatiana Dierwechter is the Interim Section Manager for the Health Promotion and Chronic Disease Prevention at the Oregon Health Authority


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