Local physician bolsters student awareness of health effects of alcohol

Local physician Jeff Herten, M.D., is working to spread national awareness about the grave but often overlooked effects of alcohol consumption. His book, “The Sobering Truth,” outlines the health risks of drinking alcohol from a doctor’s, as well as a former alcoholic’s, perspective.

“I’m a recovering alcoholic,” said Herten. “I feel a calling to try to communicate with young people to steer them away from what are some of the incredible social and health hazards of alcohol consumption.”

Herten, while holding on to his professional life, used to be what he calls a “high-functioning alcoholic.” He said that he managed to hide his growing addiction to alcohol by drinking only at night and in the privacy of his home. Eight years ago, and after several unsuccessful attempts, he overcame his addiction and committed to writing a book about alcohol and its effects.

Herten currently runs a dermatology clinic on Santa Rosa Street, and has lived in San Luis Obispo for over 30 years.

“He’s an esteemed dermatologist from the area,” Dane Howalt, M.D., said.

Howalt is also a local physician and is certified by the American Board of Addiction Medicine. He said that Herten is qualified to write a book on the health effects of alcohol because “Herten’s a board-certified physician, and has taken many years of medical school that have to do with the workings of the human body. Before one becomes a dermatologist, they are trained in the whole field of medicine. He certainly has both the undergrad and graduate training in the biochemistry of how things work.”

A key aspect of Herten’s book is that the long-term health effects of excessive drinking often go unpublicized. These secondary effects include an increased risk for over eight types of cancer, as well as depression, osteoporosis and fetal alcohol syndrome. And, “those effects are usually totally unknown,” he said.

Herten’s goal is to stop alcoholism before it starts by helping young adults make more informed choices. He is putting the information in “The Sobering Truth,” and his currently in-progress documentary, to be implemented in health programs at various universities and high schools across the country.

“Basically, he’s trying to educate youth,” said Jane Broshears, teacher at the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education and editor of “The Sobering Truth.”

Herten is funding the production and distribution of the book, and presented aspects of it to over 30 Cal Poly students Saturday morning. Delta Chi Vice President Matt Slette attended the event.

“My whole impression I guess is I’ve been to a lot of alcohol awareness events,” Slette said. “He wasn’t trying to use scare tactics. He was backing up all his claims with medical facts.”

Some students, however, remained skeptical.

“It seems like when people want to drink, they’re going to anyway. It seems like they don’t take the effects too seriously until something happens to someone they know,” architecture major Erin Osberg said. “They take it with a grain of salt.”

The National Institute of Health states that alcohol problems are highest in the 18-29 age group.

“I thought it was really informative, and it makes you think twice about some of the decisions we as college students make,” senior civil engineer Tanner Bennett said. “We’re in an environment where drinking is perfectly sociably acceptable. It’s the norm. But he’s a doctor, to be able to explain such things in such depth. The guy knew what he was talking about.”

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