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Alcohol-related deaths are on the rise nationally, spiking 25% in 1st year of the pandemic

The growing problem with alcohol addiction and alcohol-related deaths isn't unique to Indiana.

INDIANAPOLIS — The number of Americans — and Hoosiers — struggling with alcohol abuse is rising.

13News is digging into a new report showing the severity of the problem and what's causing it.

"[From] summer of 2020 until current day, it just escalated really," said Spencer Medcalf, lead peer recovery coach at IU Health.

Medcalf often spends his days virtually talking to patients in the ER after they've been treated and evaluated for alcohol or substance abuse issues. 

In the past two years, they've been busy.

"Summer of 2020, it was really interesting. It was a common occurrence to see folks kind of being caught working from home while using substances, specifically alcohol," Medcalf said. 

The growing problem with alcohol addiction and alcohol-related deaths isn't unique to Indiana.

In the first year of the pandemic, the number of U.S. deaths involving alcohol jumped by 25%, according to research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Michael Bushey, a psychiatrist at IU Health, said it's a concerning trend but not unexpected. 

"Not surprising at all. In fact, it was something we sort of anticipated would happen because not only the stress associated with the pandemic but also the changes that happened socially," said Bushey.

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When routines and resources were replaced by isolation, Bushey said many who were sober ended up relapsing. Many others turned to binge drinking to deal with the stress, anxiety and depression that came alongside COVID-19.

"Alcohol is effective in the very short term of relieving anxiety and depression, right? That's why people turn to it. But as soon as it wears off, it can relieve those immediate problems, but we know, overall, it can lead to worse depression,” said Bushey.

Locally, the number of patients needing treatment for alcohol and addiction-related issues isn't dropping.

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"In the last three or four months, if not more, we had a record-breaking number of patients we were serving across the system," Medcalf said. 

But having someone like Medcalf available over an iPad, who is able to help people take their first steps to recovery, can make an impact. In April, he'll celebrate five years clean and sober himself.

"You know, sometimes when I share that I'm in recovery or have struggled with substance abuse in the past, you can almost see a sigh of relief and kind of their shoulders lose their tension, they're like finally someone who understands," Medcalf said.  

“Recovery is possible," Medcalf said. "And whenever they decide to either reach out or even confide in a loved one and then reach out, you know there are resources available."

Looking for help?

If you or someone you know may be in need of alcohol treatment or addiction services, you can call 211 from an Indiana area code or visit them on their website for more help 

Nationally, you can access resources from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration here, on the SAMHSA National Helpline (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) at 800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY 800-487-4889. It's a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year, information service in English and Spanish for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders. The service provides referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.

You can also visit the online treatment locator, or send your zip code via text message to 435748 (HELP4U) to find help near you. Read more about the HELP4U text messaging service here.

IU Health offers virtual and in-person treatment for drug or alcohol addiction in Indianapolis and the surrounding areas.  For more information, visit them on their website.

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