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Utah sees 'massive spike' in alcohol problems during pandemic

Posted at 9:03 PM, Jun 24, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s leading substance use treatment provider warns of a massive spike in alcohol problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Odyssey House reports a 78 percent increase in the number of people needing residential treatment for alcohol misuse.

During his divorce, Chris Sutherland turned to alcohol to cope with depression, guilt and loneliness.

“It just seemed like it became the answer for everything, even boredom,” said the father of three.

In February, he sought help from Odyssey House.

“I could still function but you could only hide it for so long,” Sutherland said.

Between May 1 and June 15, 2020, nearly half of Odyssey clients have admitted to suffering from a drinking problem, up from 28 percent the year before.

“It’s been really quite astonishing,” said Odyssey House COO Christina Zidow.

For decades prior to the pandemic, 80 percent of clients needed help for meth and opiates.

Zidow said physical isolation and unemployment can lead to depression, anxiety and loneliness. For some, she said, the easiest way to cope is with alcohol.

"It becomes pretty easy to let the glass of wine at 6:00 slide to two glasses by 5:00 and then we have noon drinking. It is just one of those cycles that is self propitiating,” Zidow said.

For those struggling, Zidow suggests free online resources to create structure managing anxiety and depression. Physical exercise is important, too.

While recovery is hard, Chris said it’s been good to put down the bottle and get back to his life.
“I just didn’t like who I was anymore. I wanted to be positive, a father my kids could be proud of,” said Sutherland.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline, 1-800-662-HELP (4357), is a confidential, free, 24-hour-a-day, information service for individuals and family members facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

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