Addiction has got our attention now. Just a handful of years ago, the abuse of opioids, including both prescriptions drugs like OxyContin and illicit drugs like heroin, was a fairly “quiet” story, shared in whispers between family members and friends in the midst of their very private pain. Today, however, stories about the origins of the opioid epidemic, and its impact on individuals, families, whole communities, and even regional and national economies can be found on radio and television, in print and social media; someone, somewhere, is spreading information and building awareness about opioid addiction every day of the week.
The story is so prevalent that it almost seems to eclipse discussion about other drugs of abuse, including the one that has been and continues to be the most commonly used addictive substance in the United States: alcohol. April is Alcohol Awareness Month and reminds us to take a closer look at the most common drug of abuse, and the health and social problems drinking too much can cause.
According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, 17.6 million Americans — or one in every 12 adults — suffer from alcohol abuse or dependence and, by extension, an increased risk of injury, violence, drowning, liver disease, and some types of cancer. Additionally, several million more Americans engage in risky, binge drinking that could lead to alcohol problems (binge drinking for women is defined as consuming 4 or more drinks during a single occasion; for men, that’s 5 or more). In our own area, the numbers are smaller but no less significant. According to the 2016 Behavioral Health Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, 18.4 percent of Columbia County residents — that’s 7,060 people — reported that they engaged in binge drinking, while in Greene County that number was 17.3 percent, or 5,440 people. Not only do our communities have a fairly large number of people engaged in binge drinking, we also, unfortunately, have a culture of drinking and driving. According to the New York State Department of Health’s Community Health Indicator Reports (CHIRS), the 2014-16 alcohol-related motor vehicle injury and death rates are 43.3/100,000 people in Columbia County and 67.1/100,000 people in Greene County, quite a bit higher than the rate for the rest of upstate New York.
Alcohol abuse can have negative health effects in the long-term as well, such as cirrhosis of the liver. According to the Community Health Indicator Reports, the age-adjusted rate for cirrhosis mortality — that’s the rate of people dying from liver disease — was 9.3 out of 100,000 residents in Columbia County and 9.5/100,000 in Greene County. The data even pinpoints particular parts of the Twin Counties where this problem is most prevalent. Interestingly, in Columbia County, Canaan had the highest cirrhosis mortality rate, while in Greene County, Cairo-Durham and Catskill did.
These numbers are striking, but if there remains any doubt about the extent of alcohol abuse in Columbia and Greene Counties, we need only ask our neighbors. In a survey of 258 residents of Columbia and Greene Counties conducted last fall, 29 percent of the people that participated indicated that alcohol abuse was a “very serious” public health problem in our community.
Clearly, problem drinking is widespread and we all feel its effects — including and perhaps especially the more than 10 percent of US children who live with a parent with alcohol problems — but the fact that adult consumption of alcohol is both legal and culturally accepted may contribute to problem drinking being under-recognized and reported. Yet, there are ways to tell when drinking may have become a problem; consider these:
n Drinking to calm nerves, forget worries or boost a sad mood
n Guilt about drinking
n Unsuccessful attempts to cut down or stop drinking
n Lying about or hiding drinking habits
n Causing harm to oneself or someone else as a result of drinking
n Needing to drink increasingly greater amounts in order to achieve desired effects
n Feeling irritable, resentful or unreasonable when not drinking
n Medical, social, family or financial problems caused by drinking
For those who recognize themselves or a loved one in these warning signs of problem drinking, there is help to be had in our community. Twin County Recovery Services provides support in the form of residential programs, outpatient clinics, off-site treatment and mobile services, and peer support. They can be reached at 518-828-9300 (Columbia) or 518-943-2036 (Greene). There are also many 12-step programs and other support services. To access a resource guide to mental health and addiction services in the Twin Counties, please visit http://www.columbiahealthnet.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/MH-and-Addiction-Resources-v19.pdf.
The Healthcare Consortium is a non-profit organization with a mission of improving access to healthcare and supporting the health and well-being of the residents in our rural community. The agency is located at 325 Columbia St. in Hudson. For more information: visit www.columbiahealthnet.org or call 518-822-8820.