Area health care workers point to pandemic’s impact on alcohol use in Clark, Champaign counties

Mercy Health's South Limestone Family Medicine. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

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Mercy Health's South Limestone Family Medicine. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Health care workers are pointing to signs of and treatment for substance use disorder in Clark and Champaign counties in response to the pandemic’s impact on the area’s alcohol intake.

Alcohol Awareness Month occurs nationally every April. The pandemic has played a significant role in how people consume alcohol, said Dr. Denise Rodney, who works at Mercy Health’s South Limestone Family Medicine location.

“More patients are using alcohol as a coping mechanism and staying inside their houses to do so,” Rodney said. “The pandemic has created an abundance of stress and anxiety troubles, leading more people to drinking.”

Overall, alcohol consumption in moderation is safe for most people. However, it can cross the line into a disease or disorder when it begins to cause impairment in one’s social and physical health – or in their personal life, according to the hospital network.

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“When patients are regularly consuming enough alcohol to make them feel ill or impaired, or if they are having to consume alcohol in order to function in their normal activities, that’s when it’s time to seek help,” Rodney said.

Examples of such physical health impairment are acid reflux, difficulty sleeping and liver impairment, and drinking can also increase the risk of cancer, according to Mercy Health.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends no more than seven drinks per week for females, and 14 drinks per week for males.

Excessive alcohol use contributes to more than 95,000 deaths nationwide each year, shortening the lives of those who die by an average of 29 years. More than half of alcohol-attributable deaths are due to health effects from drinking too much over time, such as various types of cancer, liver disease and heart disease. However, short-term health effects from consuming a large amount of alcohol in a short time accounted for most of the years of potential life lost, such as deaths due to poisonings that involved another substance in addition to alcohol (such as drug overdoses), suicide and car crashes, according to a 2020 study by the Centers for Disease Control.

Roughly 17% of Clark County’s adult population reported they “excessively drank” — drinking that goes above the recommended maximum amount for men and women — in 2021, according to data from the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. Ohio’s rate of adults statewide reporting they excessively drank was at 18%, and nationwide, the rate was 15%.

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Anyone who finds themselves consuming more than that or experiencing other symptoms of alcoholism should start by talking to their doctor, Mercy Health said. Signs of alcohol consumption dependency can include temptation, interpersonal conflicts and missing work.

“Just tell them you’re concerned about your alcohol use and be honest about how much you’re drinking. Ask questions — everyone is different and there are a lot of treatment options, but your doctor can help you develop a tailored approach to ensure you get the type of help you need whether that be counseling or medication or something else,” Rodney said.

Many patients believe it’s just as easy to quit drinking as it is to start, but there’s a science behind addiction. Drinking alcohol turns off excitatory neurons, quieting the brain and releasing the chemical dopamine, which makes people feel happy. The constant release of dopamine, though, becomes addictive, Rodney said.

Local programs exist for those seeking treatment for substance use disorders, such as Mercy Health–Springfield’s REACH (Recovery, Education, Advocacy, Care and Hope) Services team.

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REACH’s services range from outpatient care including assessments and counseling, to detoxification and medication-assisted treatment.

Last year, REACH treated more than 500 new clients, conducted 1,575 individual counseling sessions and conducted nearly 500 group therapy sessions, according to Mercy Health.

In addition, community outreach education programs for adult and adolescents for alcohol, drug and tobacco education conducted more than 200 programs for local agencies, companies, courts and the juvenile division, the hospital network said.

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