The Covid-19 pandemic has swept through our nation, upending people’s lives and leaving entire communities to deal with an onslaught of health, social and economic stress and uncertainty. While we all respond differently to stress and uncertainty, the pandemic has also created a perfect storm for substance misuse and abuse by young people and adults.
In March of this year, the Oregon Liquor Control Commission reported an alarming 20% increase in alcohol sales, as compared to March 2019. Although the increase may be due, in part, to a shift to retail alcohol sales as a result of Oregon’s Covid-19 stay-at-home orders, the increase raises very real concerns about the increased potential for alcohol misuse and abuse. Excessive alcohol use, including underage and binge drinking, can lead to health problems such as alcohol use disorder, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease, and cancer. More immediately, excessive alcohol use can increase the risk for injury, violence, poisoning, unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and poor pregnancy outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol use causes 1 in every 10 deaths (88,000 deaths) each year among adults age 20-64, and an estimated 4,300 deaths each year due to underage drinking. Excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S. costs $249 billion per year—with an estimated $3.5 billion per year in Oregon alone.
Alcohol misuse and abuse is a persistent and costly problem in Oregon, and underage drinking is a serious problem that can have lethal consequences. The rates of alcohol misuse and abuse among young people is consistently higher in Douglas County than statewide. A case in point is binge-drinking—consuming 5 or more drinks of alcohol in a couple of hours. Data from the Oregon Health Authority shows that among high school 11th graders in Douglas County, approximately 14.4% reported that they had at least 1 binge-drinking incident in 2019, as compared to 12.8% statewide. Among 8th graders in Douglas County, 9.4% report at least one binge-drinking incident, as compared to 4.7% statewide. Because binge drinking is known to be the deadliest form of drinking for youth, we need to do everything we can to protect young people. One life lost to alcohol is just one too many.
Now more than ever, young people are faced with a unique set of challenges that will shape their lives today and for years to come. We all have a role to play in helping young people understand the risks of alcohol misuse and empowering them to take a stand to prevent underage drinking. The longer children delay drinking, the less likely they are to develop problems during their teenage years and later in life.
If you or someone you know is struggling with alcohol or other drug use, help is available.
- Adapt Children & Family Outpatient and Residential Treatment
- Lines for Life—Youthline
Call 877-968-8491 or Text teen2teen to 839863
- Lines for Life—Recovery Now: 24/7 Treatment Access Line
- Talk. They Hear You. — An app to learn the do’s and don’ts of talking to kids about underage drinking https://www.samhsa.gov/underage-drinking/mobile-application
Thomas Sorrells, MSW, LCSW, is the Clinical Director for Adapt, and Cati Strempel, CPS, is the Prevention & Education Program Director for Adapt. They can be reached at 541-672-2691.