By SARA ARTHURS
Many adults in Hancock County drink a lot — and give alcohol to their kids, a survey of county residents shows.
Binge drinking by males and females can lead to physical and mental health issues, and sometimes encounters with police.
The 2018 Community Health Assessment, a survey of Hancock County residents on health-related matters, found that 23% of adults reported having five or more alcoholic drinks (for males) or four or more drinks (for females) on an occasion in the last month, which is considered binge drinking.
This figure translates to 12,889 Hancock County adults being considered binge drinkers.
The survey finding that 23% of adults are binge drinkers is up from 19% in 2015 and 15% in 2011. In 2013, the figure was also 23%.
The state figure is 19%, and the national figure is 17%.
Dr. Christian Steiner, a psychiatrist at the Psychiatric Center of Northwest Ohio, said binge drinking is a clinical diagnosis referring to a blood-alcohol level. Typically this is five or more drinks in two hours for an adult male, or four or more for a female, but may depend on a person’s body mass or how they metabolize alcohol.
But “when people drink, they don’t drink based on scientific measurement,” he said.
A drink is considered 1.5 ounces of whiskey, a 12-ounce can of beer, or 6 ounces of wine, each of which has about the same amount of alcohol.
But Steiner pointed out that some large cans of beer may have more like 24 ounces, and at your local watering hole, “the bartender may be generous in their pour.” What looks like one drink might actually be more than that, and people may be drinking more than they realize.
Steiner said alcohol affects multiple chemicals in the brain.
Alcohol affects the part of the brain that allows us to “make appropriate decisions,” leading to decisions that might be more impulsive. Steiner said a person under the influence might try to do things “their full brain would know were not safe.”
During the past six months, according to the Community Health Assessment, 14% of adults drove a vehicle or other equipment after having an alcoholic beverage; 14% used prescription drugs while drinking; 13% drank more than they expected; 7% spent a lot of time drinking; 4% continued to drink despite problems caused by drinking; 4% gave up other activities to drink; 3% drank more to get the same effect; 3% failed to fulfill duties at home, work or school; 3% had legal problems; 2% tried to quit or cut down but could not; 1% drank to ease withdrawal symptoms; and 1% placed their family in harm.
Zach Thomas, director of wellness and education for the Hancock County Board of Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services, said the physical symptoms of intoxication show up much later than the psychological ones. So by the time you are slurring your speech, you have already been affected cognitively for some time.
Thomas said even binge drinking at home can be risky. While you may not be driving, there are safety risks like falling down stairs.
Consuming a lot of alcohol is “hard on the heart, the liver and the gastrointestinal tract,” and may increase depression or suicidal thinking, Steiner said.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that binge drinking is associated with not only unintentional injuries (such as car crashes, falls, burns and alcohol poisoning) and violence (including homicide, suicide, intimate partner violence and sexual assault), but also chronic diseases (such as high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and liver disease) and cancer of the breast, mouth, throat, esophagus, liver and colon.
It’s also expensive.
The costs of drinking too much — including losses in workplace productivity, health care expenditures and criminal justice costs — amounted to $249 billion nationwide in 2010.
Steiner said researchers have found people in rural areas like northwest Ohio are “more prone to use alcohol as part of their entertainment.” This is also seen in places like Alaska and Montana.
Thomas said there is a greater appreciation today for enjoying drinks like craft beer or wine — “we’re not abolitionists.” He said going out and enjoying a drink is one thing, but the danger is when the entire purpose is to “go out TO drink.”
Lt. Ryan Doe and Lt. James Mathias with the Findlay Police Department say they have seen alcohol play a role in suicide threats, domestic abuse and disorderly conduct.
Increasingly, they are seeing people under the influence of multiple substances.
When it comes to suicide, people who are already depressed may self-medicate with alcohol, but alcohol is in fact a depressant and will make the situation worse, Doe said.
Mathias said the city averages 120 to 130 arrests annually for operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol.
Doe said when he began working as an officer in the 1990s, there was a crash about every night involving an intoxicated driver. So, while “we’re still having issues,” those numbers are declining.
He said people are still assuming they are OK to drive, when they’re not. Operating a vehicle requires physical control, mental capacity and the ability to multitask, all of which can be affected by alcohol, he said.
Steiner said unless a medical lab can test your blood-alcohol level, you don’t know if you’re above the legal limit. And research has shown even “buzzed driving” to be dangerous.
The Community Health Assessment found that 5% of current adult drinkers, including 8% of males, reported driving a vehicle after having perhaps too much to drink.
Three percent of youth drivers had driven a car in the past month after they had been drinking alcohol, according to the survey, and 13% of youth had ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking.
Doe said there’s nothing illegal about being intoxicated at home, but once you make the decision to get in a car, you are committing a crime. He said attitudes are changing, and driving under the influence is no longer seen as acceptable.
Mathias said when people have their driver’s licenses suspended and must pay fines, plus attorney fees, “it’s hitting their wallets,” which is also a deterrent.
Doe encouraged planning ahead, and having a ride with a sober driver lined up before you start drinking.
Among youth in grades six through 12, 5% of all youths and 15% of those 17 and older were considered binge drinkers.
Of youth who reported drinking at some time in their life, 48% said they had their first drink at 12 or younger.
Kids get their alcohol from a variety of sources. But the largest number — 39% — said a parent gave it to them. Other sources were: someone gave it to them (27%); an older friend or sibling bought it (8%); a friend’s parent gave it to them (8%); someone older bought it for them (6%); obtained it some other way (6%); or took it from a store or family member (4%).
Mathias said police do see “a lot of parties” among high school students, and Doe said police see more underage drinking when the University of Findlay is in session, too.
Starting drinking while young can be dangerous. Steiner said 45% of people who start drinking before age 14 develop alcohol dependence, compared to only 10% of those who wait until they are 21, because of how the brain develops.
So he recommends that minors not drink at all, and that parents be aware of what their children are doing.
There is a difference between binge drinking and alcoholism. Binge drinking is defined as too much alcohol at one time. Alcoholism involves the requirement to have alcohol in order to function.
If a person is truly an alcoholic, they should not stop drinking suddenly, Steiner said.
“Alcoholism is dangerous and not as simple as just quitting,” he said. Abruptly stopping “can be deadly,” and there are agencies that will help those trying to quit.
Steiner said people with anxiety or depression may self-medicate with alcohol, as consuming alcohol is a “socially acceptable” coping strategy.
If someone with depression starts drinking, there is an “initial feeling of euphoria.” They may assume the alcohol is treating their depression, when it is potentially increasing it.
Steiner has treated many alcohol-dependent patients who had a strong underlying anxiety disorder. They would say they are just trying to control their anxiety — but then they may lose their job or marriage, or become arrested for driving under the influence.
If you’re concerned about someone else’s drinking, Steiner advocated approaching the person with “a very caring demeanor” and being not “judgmental, but concerned.” Don’t place blame, but instead offer support.
“It’s a very delicate topic,” he said.
Thomas said you may wish to phrase it as, “This is for your safety and I have a concern,” and stress that it’s about a concern for their health. Have the conversation in a safe place, he said.
If you want to learn skills to express these concerns, you might benefit from something like a CRAFT class, which the ADAMHS board teaches as an alternative to the traditional “intervention.”
If you yourself are trying to stop drinking, surrounding yourself with others in recovery will help, Thomas said. He said Focus, a local nonprofit recovery center, is a resource where you can seek out people who will support you.
And if you’re trying to figure out how to have fun without alcohol, Alcoholics Anonymous will often hold dances or outings, and there are “dry” motorcycle runs.
But if you have developed your group of friends around alcohol, it can be hard to escape. Steiner said one thing he has seen as people begin to abstain from alcohol is that they feel a sense of disappointment in their social life.
Trying old activities when newly sober, you may find they aren’t as enjoyable as you once thought they were.
The Hancock County Crisis Line is 1-888-936-7116. To reach Ohio’s Crisis Text Line, text the keyword “4hope” to 741 741.