Georgia reaches 22-year record in alcohol-related deaths
Pandemic, loneliness, binge drinking are the causes, state health officials say.
ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Alcohol-related deaths are rising in Georgia, especially as state health officials say the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated loneliness, and more people started binge-drinking alone.
The state Department of Public Health said 2,202 Georgians died from alcohol in 2020, the highest number the state has seen this century.
“Most people sometimes don’t like to hear this, but the use of alcohol, and then the abuse of alcohol, is associated with pain,” said Vonshurii Wrighten, coordinator of addictive diseases initiatives at Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. “They’re in social pain, emotional pain, psychological pain, economic pain, so you can add all of that on top of COVID.”
Georgia health officials are aware of this growing problem. The state has put out nine new substance abuse programs in response, and the treatment program includes funding for medication.
“Use of medication allows individuals to not have the cravings long enough to engage in treatment - and behavioral health therapy,” Wrighten said.
The age group experiencing the most deaths were between 55-64 years old. But that doesn’t mean other age groups are immune.
Erin Campbell needed more than a decade to admit she had a problem.
“Alcohol became my best friend when I was 15 years old,” said Campbell, now director of admissions at Summit Wellness Group, an alcohol treatment and drug rehab center in metro Atlanta. “I was considered what was a ‘blackout drinker;’ every time I drank, I blacked out.”
Campbell says she would drink between 25 to 30 beers every day, that she also mixed with liquor. One drink was never enough.
“It was 15 years of drinking, pretty heavily,” said Campbell. “That was the way I dealt with my emotions, that was my escape.”
Campbell’s alcoholism and anxiety got worse.
“I couldn’t even survive, go without being able to drink and numb out those feelings,” she said. “I had that thought inside of me: I just want to die. I wish I could just run off the side of the road; I wish I could just not wake up tomorrow. Most people who are finally coming where they are asking for help, at some point in time, they have had that feeling of wanting to die.”
“There is a way out,” said Campbell, now 11 years sober. “We don’t have to think, ‘I can never drink ever again.’ It’s too overwhelming in the beginning. It’s just, don’t drink today, and tomorrow we’re going to talk about it again.”
Campbell hopes sharing her story will help others take action and stay alive.
“People feel weak for asking for help,” she said. “But really the weak thing to do is just to continue on drinking, and covering it up and covering it up but the moment that you say, ‘I need help,” it’s the strongest step you’ve ever taken.”
The state’s program is open to applicants who want help. State regional field offices can help accessing local services and also offers outreach in emergency rooms to determine if immediate interventions can prevent future hospitalizations.
- Georgia Crisis and Access: 1-800-715-4225 or mygcal.com.
- Georgia COVID-19 emotional support: 866-399-8938. Call or text Monday-Sunday from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.
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