Community needs to tackle its alcohol issue

Minimized a bit by the ongoing increase in people seeking treatment for drug addiction is another problem that can have life-altering, even deadly consequences — alcohol abuse.

An optimistic view might be that more people are open to obtaining help to recover from addiction. That could explain part of an apparent surge in alcohol abuse in our area, and we commend those who seek help to deal with drug and/or alcohol addiction.

The Republic’s Andy East reported last week that 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 this year.

As of May 29, East wrote, “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.”

So effectively, we’re on pace to see more than twice as many people seeking treatment for alcohol abuse in our community compared with two years earlier. No matter the cause, that is a startling increase and a wakeup call for our community, which rightly has been focused in recent years with increasing the options for substance abuse treatment.

What has not been minimized in recent years are the serious health consequences of alcohol addiction. As experts told East, alcohol abuse is accountable for far more deaths each year than deaths from drug abuse, and this is becoming better understood generally.

“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,” East wrote.

So it could be that more people are seeking help to break alcohol addiction because they recognize the health risks and the potential consequences of doing nothing.

But the experts say the increase in those seeking treatment for alcohol abuse is also a side effect of the isolation of the COVID pandemic, when people who never drank before turned to alcohol and others who had stopped drinking began to imbibe again.

The difference between alcohol and hard drugs, of course, is that moderation is possible with alcohol. Plenty of people have the occasional beer or glass of wine or spirits without the compulsion for the next drink. And the next. And …

We know from past research that Bartholomew County has a higher number of excessive drinkers than the state average, and there are no signs that this has changed since the last large study on the matter in 2021.

Given that our community is taking an all-hands approach to improving local mental health and encouraging treatment, the increase in people seeking help for alcohol abuse shows a couple of things: More people are in need of help, but more people are also getting the help they need.

We’ll let this quote from TASC Medical Director Dr. Kevin Terrell have the last word:

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