Morgan County Health Officials are sounding the alarm after recent community surveys have indicated misuse and abuse of alcohol is on the rise in the area.
Lori Hartz, Director of Community Health for Jacksonville Memorial Hospital says due to the many stresses brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, what was already an issue in the community has become even more of an issue.
“We’ve noticed an increase in emergency room visits for alcohol-related illnesses, and sometimes they are attached to other illnesses of course, but alcohol has been a factor. We also know that alcohol is the root cause of many other health conditions. So we wanted to raise awareness in the community of the studies that we have been following that show there has been an increased use of alcohol, particularly during the pandemic. And as people are trying to find coping mechanisms, unfortunately, alcohol has become one of those that we’ve seen an increase in over the last year and a half.”
According to data collected prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 19.4 percent of adults who consumed alcohol engaged in binge drinking, nearly 3 percent higher than the national average. The same data indicated that 44 percent of surveyed teens consumed alcohol – about 4 percent higher than the state average.
Hartz says in 2018 and 2019, Morgan County was experiencing significant levels of alcohol abuse and misuse even before the stress of the pandemic began. She says since then, studies show the number of adults who consume alcohol has increased by about 14 percent; but especially concerning is a 41 percent increase in alcohol use among women.
She says that is why Jacksonville Memorial Hospital is teaming with other local health and community agencies and organizations to raise awareness of the risks associated with alcohol use.
“Our campaign here is just to raise awareness with people on the signs and symptoms of increased alcohol and how it may be affecting their lives. And also to give them a couple of resources to look at in case they feel like they would like to reach out for help. We just want everyone to take a look at their habits and if they are noticing an increased use of alcohol just be aware of that.
Be aware of the signs and symptoms of any health-related problems they may be having, and to be sure to reach out to their primary care physician and some of the alcohol-related resources that are available in our community.”
Groups participating in the Substance Use Prevention Coalition along with JMH include the Morgan County Health Department, Jacksonville Police Department, Family Guidance Centers, Gateway Foundation, Community Hope and Recovery, and Midwest Youth Services.
Hartz says anyone who is struggling with alcohol abuse or who just simply recognizes some of the symptoms and does not know where to turn can contact the Gateway Foundation in Jacksonville at 877-377-4206, or Community Hope and Recovery Center in downtown Jacksonville at 217-800-6622.