TASC sees more demand for alcohol treatment

Dr. Kevin Terrell

Columbus Regional Health’s Treatment and Support Center, or TASC, is on pace to see a record number of people seek help with alcohol abuse.

As of Wednesday, TASC had seen 255 patients struggling with alcohol use, putting the treatment center on pace to see roughly 620 patients for alcohol abuse this year, officials said. By comparison, TASC had 360 patients who sought help with alcohol issues in 2023 and 295 the year before.

While many of those patients also sought help for problems with other substances, the number of patients who were only seeking help with alcohol also is on pace to set a record.

TASC had seen 144 patients as of Wednesday who were only seeking help with alcohol abuse, putting the treatment center on pace for around 350 patients this year. That would be an increase from 218 alcohol-only patients in 2023 and 108 the year before that.

Officials largely attributed the increases to isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, which led many people who did not previously have alcohol problems to turn to drinking to cope. In addition, the emotional toll of the pandemic also led some people who had a history of alcohol abuse to start drinking again.

TASC Medical Director Dr. Kevin Terrell said, “we’ve seen both scenarios countless times.”

“I know alcohol does not get the attention that opioids do, but alcohol abuse is a much bigger killer than opioid addiction,” Terrell said. “It kills many more people. It just takes a lot longer for people to die from alcohol abuse.”

The drastic increase in demand for alcohol treatment at TASC comes as the annual number of deaths in the United States attributed to excessive alcohol rose during the pandemic.

Excessive alcohol use was responsible for about 178,000 deaths in the United States each year in 2020 and 2021, or 488 deaths per day, according to the most recent figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By comparison, there were an estimated 138,000 alcohol-attributable deaths per year in 2016 and 2017.

In Indiana, there was an average of 3,808 alcohol-attributable deaths in 2020 and 2021, according to the CDC. By comparison, there was an average of around 2,500 overdose deaths in the state over the same period.

The CDC defines excessive alcohol consummation as men who consume more than two drinks per day on average or women who consume more than one drink per day on average. It also includes men who had five drinks or more during a single occasion during the previous 30 days or women who had more than four drinks.

A “drink” is defined as 12 ounces of beer with 5% alcohol by volume, 8 ounces of malt liquor with 7% alcohol by volume, 5 ounces of wine with 12% alcohol by volume or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits with 40% alcohol by volume.

“In the United States, annual deaths from alcohol abuse have increased over the past two decades, and death rates accelerated substantially as a result of the COVID pandemic,” Terrell said. “The number of people with alcohol problems that we’re seeing TASC reflect that.”

Excessive alcohol consumption is associated with a host of long-term health effects, including heart disease, liver disease, strokes, cancer, weakened immune system, dementia, mental health issues, among others, according to the CDC. It also is associated with several short-term health risks, including, among other things, motor vehicle accidents, violence, alcohol poisoning, risky behaviors, miscarriages and birth defects.

Local officials have expressed concern about excessive alcohol consumption in the community, pointing to a survey that suggests that Bartholomew County adults are more likely to be excessive drinkers than adults in many other communities in the state.

In 2021, an estimated 21.8% of Bartholomew County residents ages 18 and up were excessive drinkers, according to CRH’s 2021 Community Health Needs Assessment. By comparison, 16.5% of adults in Indiana were excessive drinkers.

“We have known that as a community that the number of people who drink excessively … was significantly higher than the state average,” said Alliance for Substance Abuse Progress Executive Director Sherri Jewett. “…The reality is many more people die from long-term alcohol use across the country than die from illicit substance misuse.”

Overall, TASC saw 998 patients last year and is on pace to see more than 1,600 this year.