Experts on health and well-being in Morgan County have targeted alcohol abuse and misuse as a root cause of poor health indicated by recent community surveys.
“Mental health and substance use disorders have been at the top of our priorities list for many years, and alcohol abuse and misuse is a part of that,” said Lori Hartz, director of community health at Jacksonville Memorial Hospital. “Due to the many stresses brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, what was already an issue in our community has become even more of an issue.”
According to data collected prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 19.4 percent of adults who consumed alcohol engaged in binge drinking. That’s nearly 3 percent higher than the national average. The same data indicated 44 percent of surveyed teens consumed alcohol – about 4 percent higher than the state average.
“[In 2018 and 2019], Morgan County was experiencing significant levels of alcohol abuse and misuse even before the stress of the pandemic was introduced,” said Hartz. “Since the pandemic, studies show the number of adults who consume alcohol has increased by about 14 percent; but especially concerning is a 41 percent increase in alcohol use among women.”
Visits to the emergency department to address alcohol-related accidents and illnesses have increased locally, said Hartz.
“We’ve seen an increase in cases tied to alcohol abuse and misuse, and also tied to mental illness – such as depression or anxiety – that has been exacerbated by alcohol use,” she said.
Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is teaming with other local health and community agencies and organizations to raise awareness of the risks associated with alcohol use.
Groups participating in the Substance Use Prevention Coalition include the Morgan County Health Department, Jacksonville Police Department, Family Guidance Centers, Gateway Foundation, Community Hope and Recovery and Midwest Youth Services.
“You don’t think of alcohol as being dangerous because it’s so accessible and because it’s not illegal for adults to consume it,” said Hartz. “But it can be the cause of many problems, both social and physical, that negatively affect a person’s health, which, in turn, affects the health of the community.”
Issues stemming from alcohol abuse and misuse include injury, such as motor vehicle crashes, falls, drownings and burns; violence, including homicide, suicide and sexual assault; alcohol poisoning; risky sexual behavior, including unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners that result in unintended pregnancy or STDs; and miscarriage and stillbirth or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders among pregnant women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
Long-term health impacts associated with binge drinking include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, liver disease and digestive problems; certain types of cancer; learning and memory problems, including dementia; mental health problems, including depression and anxiety; and social problems, including homelessness and unemployment.
For those seeking support in addiction recovery, the following resources are available:
Gateway Foundation in Jacksonville offers customized recovery services to people overwhelmed by alcohol addiction or drug abuse. For more information, call 877-377-4206.
Community Hope and Recovery Center Alcohol and Substance Abuse Program offers dedicated treatment and rehabilitation programs and services to people battling drug and alcohol addiction. For more information, call 217-800-6622.