OPINION: Alaskans, step away from alcohol misuse

Now that we’ve fully entered the holiday season, I’m encouraging Alaskans to step away from alcohol misuse. In fact: I’m declaring sobriety trendy. With Sober October behind us, Dry January just ahead and more people choosing mocktails over cocktails, I believe we are at the precipice of a significant cultural shift when it comes to drinking responsibly.

For Alaskans, this change can’t come soon enough. Along with damaging our economic prospects, alcohol wrecks lives, families, and communities across the state. In January 2020 the Alaska Mental Health Trust released The Economic Costs of Alcohol Misuse in Alaska which shows that in 2018 the estimated total cost to the state was $2.4 billion. Four years and one pandemic later, things are even less rosy. In a report released by the U.S. Center for Disease Control data, or CDC, there was a 26% rise in alcohol-related deaths from 2019-2020 across the United States. Since the pandemic, heavy drinking has increased approximately 30%; you’ve likely heard jokes and memes pointing to alcohol as a way many people were coping. But wine-mom memes aren’t really funny and simply underscore how many people relieved increased stress and emotional pain through heavy drinking. There are better, healthier ways to cope and, thankfully, course corrections are possible. Collectively, it is important that we challenge the way we talk — and laugh — about the effects. This isn’t a black or white issue. Although abstinence is the right choice for some people, moderation is equally effective and helps avoid adverse outcomes. And by the way, for most men, moderation or low-risk drinking is two or less drinks a day and for women, it is one alcoholic drink per day.

For those looking for ways to manage alcohol in their lives, there are two important homegrown resources, Recover Alaska and Step Away. Recover Alaska is a nonprofit consortium providing alcohol misuse resources and education as well as proactive advocacy. Along with success stories, access to sober communities, and referrals, Recover Alaska also offers Step Away, a clinically-validated app proven to help users independently manage alcohol consumption.

Developed by University of Alaska Anchorage professor Dr. Patrick Dulin, with funding from the United States National Institute of Health and the Veterans Administration, Step Away helps users manage their drinking behaviors and cravings. Interested people can download it from the app stores and try it free of charge for a week and if they want to continue, for the price of a about one drink per month, can continue to use it to help them become more aware of their patterns and stay accountable to either abstaining from or moderating their alcohol consumption. Step Away allows people to individually track and manage how much they drink and bypasses the stigma many feel when trying to reach out for help and has been shown in multiple clinical trials to help people drink more healthily. Whether alcohol misuse is annoying or life damaging, both Recover Alaska and Step Away offer affordable and effective ways for anyone to receive the help they need.

As we gather with family and friends, please make sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic drinks available and actively support and celebrate those who reach for a sparkling water, soda, or Faux-jito. Encourage those around you to drink responsibly and remember: Cultural shifts happen when we all agree the price is too high and we can do better.

Jacqueline Summers is the executive director of Health TIE, an Alaska-based nonprofit health care innovation hub working to improve health care for Alaskans.

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