In May 2019, two people were seen for alcoholism at The Doorway, a referral center for drug treatment in Keene.
Last month, that number rose to 25, echoing a national increase in alcohol use amid the COVID-19 pandemic and adding, locally, to the need for drug treatment facilities.
âPeople have stopped engaging with their entire community,â said Sam Lake, executive director of the Keene Serenity Center. âSo they’re a little bored, hanging out, and now maybe someone who’s had a few drinks after work, they’re working from home, and beer goes from 6 p.m. to 9 a.m. “
A december study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information shows that 60% of those polled increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic, with nearly half saying it was because they were more stressed.
Of the 27 percent who said they drank less, 58 percent said it was because of the decrease in the availability of alcohol.
âThe stress has been unbelievable for some people,â said Martha Huckins, program coordinator for the Addictions Department of Family Services at Monadnock. âThey lost their jobs; if they haven’t lost their job, they work from home, their kids run in and out of the room, they’re trying to go to school, and your spouse is there too. Life has changed, and it has changed overnight.
People with anxiety or depression were more likely to increase their alcohol consumption, according to a January study study by the New York University School of Public Health. Data shows that people with depression were 64% more likely to drink more alcohol, while those with anxiety were 41% more likely.
All of the drug treatment providers interviewed by The Sentinel said they saw an increase in alcoholism among their clients during the pandemic, including those who relapse and those suffering from alcoholism for the first time.
Among those seen at The Doorway, alcohol has consistently been the second most consumed substance since the center opened in 2018, with opioids being the first.
âOur volume has steadily increased throughout the pandemic as people find inappropriate ways to cope with stress,â said Executive Director Nelson Hayden.
Isolation – commonly referred to as “the enemy of addiction” in the recovery community – is another reason for the increased use, according to Hayden.
âPeople isolate themselves, and that only fuels their substance use because they don’t have that interaction with others,â he said. âWe need people to have a connection, and that’s one of the things this pandemic has done is take it away. “
A shortage of detox options
Over time, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to the development of chronic diseases and other serious conditions, such as high blood pressure, digestive problems, heart disease, stroke, and liver disease.
In 2019, around 14.5 million people in the country suffered from an alcohol use disorder, according to the latest information available. The data of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
And for years, New Hampshire has ruled the country in alcohol consumption, with a per capita alcohol consumption of 4.76 gallons per year, according to data from the World Population Review.
While this isn’t the first time America has seen an increase in alcohol use, the pandemic has kept people from turning to their communities for help as treatment providers shut their doors for long periods.
âWe have had past episodes where there has been an increase in alcohol consumption, like after 9/11 or [Hurricane] Katrina, but it was a short time and help was available, âsaid Huckins, of Monadnock Family Services. “… The concern is [the pandemic] has been going on for so long, it develops important patterns. “
And although providers have since reopened, they say there is still an urgent need for drug treatment facilities locally and statewide.
If a person with a drinking problem needs to be admitted to an inpatient program, most facilities require that they complete a drug rehab program first, according to Hayden. This is because people who withdraw from alcohol have an increased risk of seizures or death.
âIt has been a big bottleneck in the whole system,â he said.
Currently there are only two alcohol rehab centers in New Hampshire, Manchester and Effingham. Others are in preparation, such as the one in Peterborough, which is slated to open by the end of the year.
âIf someone comes in with an opioid problem and wants help, like treatment, there are beds everywhere,â said Lake of the Keene Serenity Center. “But if someone comes to drink alcohol … it’s very difficult.”
To help combat this, The Doorway this fall launched a new drug-assisted treatment program specifically for alcohol use.
Similar to its opioid program, clients take medication – most often a reduction in librium – every day under a doctor’s supervision to help them safely detoxify from alcohol, according to Hayden. The outpatient program is often combined with counseling or other behavioral therapy.
People with a history of seizures or difficult withdrawals would not do well with the program, he added, and would have to go to an inpatient drug rehab center.
“We’ve probably done it a few dozen times,” Hayden said of drug treatment for alcoholism, “and it just might have made it easier to access treatment.”
In addition to more treatment, providers said the stigma surrounding alcoholism is another area that needs to be improved.
Alcoholism is often overlooked, providers say, in part because people are more familiar with it and have used the legal substance themselves.
âFamily members ask, ‘What’s your problem? Stop drinking too much. I can.’ Family members and friends will say this to those struggling with alcohol addiction, âHuckins said.
Hayden added that there is a long history of people covering up their alcohol use disorder, or loved ones simply ignoring the problem.
âPeople just said, ‘OK, let’s brush this under the rug.’ Whereas if you say [youâre using] the heroine is like ‘Whoa, wait a sec,’ âHayden said.
However, Lake said alcohol – along with benzodiazepines, a tranquilizer – has the highest risk of permanent injury or death when people detox, underscoring the need for people to take it seriously.
âPeople don’t die when they quit opioids, they just feel terrible. With alcoholism, withdrawal can kill you, “he said,” and that’s why we need treatment in this area. “
For help with substance use disorders, residents of Cheshire County can visit The Doorway at 24 Railroad St. in Keene. The Doorway is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. 24/7 state hotline support is available at 211.