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Treatment Centers Seeing Spike In Alcohol Abuse Issues During Pandemic

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – If you, or someone you know, has been drinking more alcohol during the coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. It’s become a serious problem for some people, and Odyssey House has seen a spike in the number of people seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

Over the last 15 years, opioids and methamphetamine became the top drugs of choice for people seeking treatment at Odyssey House. During the pandemic, that changed.

Overall, the number of people seeking treatment for drug or alcohol abuse has surged, and so has the percentage of alcoholics.

“We have had a significant increase in demand,” said Christina Zidow, chief operating officer at Odyssey House.

Zidow said Odyssey House leadership anticipated more problems for addicts and alcoholics during the pandemic because sheltering in place leads to isolation, the enemy of recovery. But, they did not expect to see a growing percentage of people seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

“One of the things that was completely astonishing is that over the last couple of months, we have seen a significant uptick in the number of individuals seeking help, including residential treatment, for an alcohol use disorder,” she said.

Overall, Odyssey House has seen a 78 percent spike in clients coming into the residential treatment program during COVID-19. From May 1 through June 15, nearly half of all clients listed alcohol as a primary reason for seeking treatment.

During that same time period last year, only 28 percent said they had a drinking problem.

Zidow doesn’t think the addicts became alcoholics. But for many who have struggled with substance abuse recently, the pandemic may have provided a painful push.

“Because of the intense deprivation that happened as a part of the pandemic, they have found themselves drinking more and more often to the point where it became an out-of-control problem,” she said.

Chris Sutherland went into residential treatment In early February, just before the coronavirus arrived.

“I just realized I wasn’t being the sort of father that I wanted to be,” he said.

His drinking problem intensified more than a year ago as his marriage started to unravel.

“I really started drinking to fill in the void of mostly not having my daughters around all the time. But, there was just a lot of lonely times, and a lot of hurt, frustration, guilt and shame,” Sutherland said.

He’s been sober now more than four months. After completing the inpatient part of his program, Sutherland has been in a transitional program for the last six weeks fighting urges to drink that were made more problematic by the pandemic.

“There’s a lot more boredom,” he said. “A lot more downtime. So it’s a battle every day.”

The isolation and distancing encouraged because of the pandemic create problems for alcoholics in recovery, who traditionally meet face-to-face in meetings to support each other in sobriety.

“It takes some getting used to. But, I’ve learned a lot of things, and how to deal with it a lot better,” he said. “But, it’s something I’ll always have to work on.”

He said the pandemic has made it harder to nurture supportive face to face relationships with other alcoholics. Social distancing has also limited activities that otherwise they give him something to do.

“It really helps to stay busy, and right now, it’s a lot harder to stay busy,” he said.

As the pandemic persists, so will the problems for alcoholics, said Zidow. She believed Odyssey House will continue to see a surge in demand for treatment services.

“If your drinking is having a negative impact on your relationships, or work, and your ability to do the things that you like, you may want to talk to somebody at Odyssey House or look for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and ask yourself, ‘Am I really happy, and feeling OK about what’s going on right now?’” Zidow said.

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