Friday September 30th 2016

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Alcoholism and Alaska: Day 001 & Recover Alaska give new hope for drinking problems

Are you an Alaskan?

Do you struggle with drinking?

When drinking crosses the line from moderate drinking and starts causing you serious problems, it is not a simple thing to handle. Even when the warning sings are telling you to stop, something can push you to keep drinking.

Becoming aware of the problem is maybe the first step to over come it. In this interview, we’re delighted that Tiffany Hall, the Director of Recover Alaska has joined us to explain more! Here, she’ll share with us some strategies to help identify and reduce alcoholism in Alaska.

Fighting alcoholism in Alaska

Recover Alaska is an action group that is pursuing a solutions-based approach to combating excessive alcohol consumption in Alaska by identifying its root causes. How can they help you? Read on to find out. For any other questions or comments, please use the section at the bottom of the page. In fact, we try to respond to all questions personally and promptly.

ADDICTION BLOG: Can you tell us something more about the drinking problem in Alaska? How and why is it such a big problem?

RECOVER ALASKA: Alaska has had a longstanding problem with alcohol and it’s difficult to say specifically why that is, as there are many contributing factors.

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What we do know is that Alaska has one of the highest rates of alcoholism in the country – 14% – which is twice the national average, according to the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. We also know that alcohol abuse contributes to the state’s high rates of domestic violence, sexual assault, suicide, and other substance abuse issues.

Recover Alaska has identified five strategies to address the issue of alcohol overconsumption, including:

  • efforts to change laws
  • change social norms
  • develop an online resource
  • continuing to research public opinions and habits
  • helping to facilitate this very conversation here in our state

ADDICTION BLOG: What are Alaska’s laws about consumption of alcohol? Are there limitations to where and when people in Alaska can drink alcohol?

RECOVER ALASKA: The legal drinking age in Alaska is 21 years old, but drinking is not allowed everywhere.

Many communities – primarily villages in rural parts of the state – have implemented local option laws, setting their own limits on the availability of alcohol. A community votes on whether to adopt local alcohol laws; if established, the municipality or tribal village enforces the laws.

Many communities have decided to ban alcohol altogether and are called “dry” communities. Some villages, known as “damp” communities, have adopted laws that allow a limited amount of alcohol to be carried into the community.

ADDICTION BLOG: Are these barriers effective or successful?

RECOVER ALASKA: The local option laws seem to have a varying degree of efficacy; the option to possess but not import or sale doesn’t seem to work very well, but others fare better.

We also know that illegal alcohol importation into communities with local option laws in place continues to present a large problem in Alaska. As is the case with many issues, there are always people who choose not to abide by the law.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are the next steps people can take after identifying alcohol problem? Where do you refer people to find an effective recovery program?

RECOVER ALASKA: The best first step an individual can take is to confide in someone about their problem and together identify the type of treatment they would like to pursue. The journey to recovery is incredibly difficult and it is even harder if you’re attempting to do it alone. Support from a friend or loved one is very helpful.

Currently, Recover Alaska is in the process of creating a comprehensive online recovery resource and call-line to help people seeking treatment navigate the options available. The idea is to connect Alaskans who abuse alcohol with a specialist who can work directly with them, explain different levels of treatment and determine what opportunities exist for them. This resource will also allow us to collect and document real-time information on Alaskans’ needs and the availability of local treatment services.

ADDICTION BLOG: How is alcohol addiction treated so far in Alaska? What gaps exist in access to rehab?

RECOVER ALASKA: There are a variety of methods to treat alcohol addiction-inpatient and outpatient programs, detoxification, support groups, etc. Unfortunately, many of the treatment programs have long wait lists due to a lack of treatment options and facilities within the state.

Part of this is an issue of how addiction services are viewed – the Medicaid reimbursement levels for mental health are far lower than physical health, and addiction services lower still. Collecting information on the current need and the availability of services (i.e. who applies to which program, who was turned away, etc.) will provide data needed to effectively advocate for additional resources. The goal is to eventually understand how to better treat individuals and connect them to local care in a timely manner.

ADDICTION BLOG: What are the biggest issues that alcohol abuse causes in Alaska’s communities?

RECOVER ALASKA: Alcohol overconsumption has an overall harmful impact on our society. Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to many of the state’s top health and social issues such as:

  • negative health impacts
  • chronic homelessness
  • sexual assault
  • domestic violence
  • child abuse
  • fetal alcohol syndrome
  • suicide

ADDICTION BLOG: You’ve launched a campaign called “Day 001: Voices of Recovery” to heighten awareness and reduce the harms caused by over drinking in Alaska. Can you share with us more info on what this campaign is about and how do you see it making a real change in people’s behavior?

RECOVER ALASKA: The Day 001 project falls within one of our initiatives to change social norms surrounding alcohol.

So often, we receive feedback that recovery is not attainable for many people with alcohol abuse problems, and not worth the effort. We want to highlight positive, amazing success stories to send the message that it is possible and people in recovery are doing wonderful things for our community, all around us.

Personal stories are much more relatable than statistics on a page; in fact my own recovery is a testament to the power of hearing someone else share their story. With the videos, we hope to break down the stigma of talking about recovery, inspire people battling with addiction, and change overall attitudes about recovery.

So please share the links!

ADDICTION BLOG: How can people share their stories on “Day 001″?

RECOVER ALASKA: It’s easy, visit day001.org, and you’ll find the entire series, eight mini documentaries produced in collaboration with our partner, Koahnic Broadcasting Corporation and funding from Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

At the top of the page, there’s a tab titled “Share Your Story,” which will direct you to the Recover Alaska Facebook page. We’re encouraging people to share their stories of addiction and recovery on our Facebook page because we believe in the power of social media and its ability to reach a large audience. We’re looking into additional options moving forward, and will keep our website updated with the latest opportunities.

ADDICTION BLOG: At what age are people in Alaska most affected by alcohol consumption? Why do you think this age group is at risk?

RECOVER ALASKA: Not just Alaska, but everywhere, all ages are impacted – babies, teens, adults, elders, whether drinking themselves or being subjected to someone else’s negative consequences of alcohol. Of note, youth under 21 are an especially vulnerable population. Kids who drink before they are 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol abuse/dependence as adults than those who wait until they’re 21.

ADDICTION BLOG: What ideas do you have to help reduce underage drinking in Alaska?

RECOVER ALASKA: In addition to the Day 001 project, we’re also involved with another social norms campaign that addresses the issue of underage drinking.

The Be[You] campaign aims to prevent and reduce underage drinking in Alaska by challenging the perception that most teenagers drink alcohol. Based on 2013 data from students across the state, 78% of Alaska’s high school students don’t drink, though 79% believe that their peers do. By emphasizing this statistic among teens and highlighting the positive things that youth are doing instead of drinking, our goal is to decrease underage drinking and delay the onset of alcohol use.

ADDICTION BLOG: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

RECOVER ALASKA: Alaska is unique for a variety of reasons, one of which is our large rural population. And when we say rural, we mean towns and villages with sometimes just a few hundred people, off the road system, maybe with indoor plumbing or maybe not. One reason we’re focusing so heavily on social media is to help us reach those in the farthest corners of our state.

Additionally, we’re in the process of growing right now! I mentioned our online resource center we’re working on to address the needs of the community and to spark greater collaboration between providers and supporters. If you have ideas on best practices, please share! thall@recoveralaska.org

Thank you for all you do!

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