DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — When the pandemic hit in 2020, more people turned to drinking as a coping mechanism.
For many, alcohol became a way to deal with job loss and isolation, but excessive drinking has led to problems that are potentially fatal and has caused alarm for health experts.
Jerry Eason, 53, fights a battle every day. He is the Resident House Manager for Miami Valley Recovery’s Sober Living program. His journey to get there was not an easy one.
“My first experience with substances I was six years old, and I really wasn’t old enough– an older boy had given it to me,” recalls Eason.
Glue at 6, marijuana at 11, and alcohol at 13; substances helped take away the fears and insecurities he had as a young child. “I didn’t come from a very good home,” says Eason.
At 13, he was sent to a rehabilitation center. “At that age, my concept of an alcoholic or a drug addict was somebody living under a bridge, standing around a 55-gallon drum, drinking wine out of a bag,” admits Eason. “I was an athlete. I was a good athlete. How could I be an alcoholic? Little did I know that I was.”
Through the years he relied on drugs and alcohol to take his pain away and avoid the challenges of life. Alcohol was his main crutch.
In 1997 at 29, he was homeless; he had just gotten out of prison for drug-related charges. He knew something had to change and went to a faith-based rehabilitation center in Covington, Kentucky, got involved in Alcoholics Anonymous, was doing a 12-step program daily, and managed to stay sober for almost 16 years.
In 2013, he fell back into his old habits and couldn’t get a grip on sobriety. Eason says by 2016, he was drinking every day in addition to using drugs.
“It was nothing for me to drink a half a gallon of whiskey…and a 30 pack of beer a day,” states Eason.
On June 25, 2019, he overdosed, but it was the last time he used drugs or alcohol.
“I drank to the point that I was bleeding out. I was at the point where I didn’t know whether I wanted to live or die,” admits Eason.
After that, he turned his life around when he found Miami Valley Recovery and reached out. Eason now runs the Sober Living program, relating to others and giving them the same chance he was given.
“He’s been with us for two years and hasn’t looked back. I mean clean and sober since day 1, and he’s progressed through all of the phases of treatment that we’ve had,” says Brittney Stephens, the CEO of Miami Valley Recovery.
The outpatient addiction treatment facility opened in April 2019 and currently serves nearly 70 clients. Stephens says in the last year, they’ve seen an increased number of people struggling with alcohol issues.
“Alcohol is very scary for us,” admits Stephens. “It should be scary for a lot of people because of detox. Withdrawals are pretty severe.”
Because of severe seizures, withdrawals from alcohol can be deadly
Montgomery County Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services says alcohol is number one for addiction, killing more people than fentanyl.
“The problem with alcohol is that it’s also legal. During the pandemic when there was less access to some of the illegal substances that people used, they turned to alcohol. It was easy to stop and purchase alcohol. In fact, alcohol sales went up 10%. in our community,” says Helem Jones-Kelley, Executive Director of Montgomery County ADAMHS.
In 2020, alcohol became even more accessible than it was before. People were able to buy drinks to-go and even have alcohol delivered.
“People don’t think about alcohol being a problem for addiction challenges. They always think of the illicit drugs or the misuse of legal prescription drugs,” says Jones-Kelley.
Alcohol continues to be a problem among younger and younger people, specifically because of the accessibility on college campuses.
“Unfortunately, younger people drink to get drunk. The goal there is not the social drink. It is really about the drunk and the story the next day,” says Jones-Kelley. “How do we get away from that right of passage to adulthood being associated with alcoholic beverages?”
The CDC recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for about 95,000 deaths a year in the U.S. Overconsumption can also cause a number of health issues, specifically liver damage.
“We’ve seen a trend of adults less than 40, being admitted with alcoholic liver disease and complications,” states Dr. Bahar Cheema, completing a fellowship at Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine and specializing in gastroenterology and hepatology.
She says women tend to develop liver disease related to alcohol at a quick rate than men and after consuming less alcohol than men. Complications vary based on gender, age, genetics, and risk factors.
“Some of those complications include swelling of the abdomen, the legs, yellowing of the skin called jaundice, sometimes GI bleeding,” describes Dr. Cheema.
She says alcohol affects all organs of the body and can even cause heart failure.
According to Dr. Cheema, alcoholic liver disease is one of the top reasons people require liver transplants even surpassing Hepatitis C in the U.S. Roughly 17,000 people across the country are on the waiting list for a new liver. About 25% of them will die waiting for a transplant.
“In the earlier stages, liver fibrosis or scarring can be reversible,” states Dr. Cheema, stressing the importance of getting help.
North Dayton Addiction and Recovery is one of the outpatient facilities in the Miami Valley where people can get help. Since the pandemic began, they’ve seen patients increase their alcohol intake.
“We’re actually seeing a little bit more in women than we are in men,” states Medical Director Dr. Paul Kolodzik who has background as an ER doctor and is board certified in addiction medicine. “There are financial concerns during the pandemic. There’s job loss. There’s isolation. There are some increased relationship issues as a result of the pandemic. And I think those all cause stress and lead people to use more alcohol than they would’ve previously.”
North Dayton Addiction and Recovery sees a variety of patients, from heavy drinkers who need to work towards abstinence to those who simply want to decrease their alcohol intake. When patients come there, Dr. Kolodzik first assesses their drinking habits, establishes goals, and puts a plan together on an outpatient basis to help them meet those goals.
“You got to put one foot in front of the other before you can get to the point where you can quit. Alcohol withdrawal is dangerous. Alcohol withdraw really can kill people,” warns Dr. Kolodzik. He has a clinic in the Miami Valley and one in Indiana. Between the two facilities, they serve about 220 patients with one-third of them seeking help for alcohol issues.
Getting help is not a one-size-fits-all approach. North Dayton Addiction and Recovery focuses heavily on The Sinclair Method, a method embraced internationally that de-conditions people from their alcohol use.
“The traditional approach of course is the AA approach, which we support for those people who can achieve abstinence or want to be abstinent. But I do think there’s a large group of people that actually just want to limit their alcohol use and are not really certain that they want to progress to abstinence,” states Dr. Kolodzik.
The Sinclair Method uses the drug naltrexone to eliminate cravings and reduce a person’s consumption.
“We give them naltrexone on the days they drink alcohol, we cover up those opiate receptors in the brain and gear down their serotonin and dopamine receptors as well. And on days when they’re not drinking alcohol, they’re not taking the naltrexone. So their mind over a period of time learns that drinking alcohol isn’t that great because those receptors are muted,” describes Dr. Kolodzik.
Some patients respond in a few weeks to a couple months; others take five to six months to respond fully. About 80% of patients are successful.
For other people, the only way to survive is to stop drinking altogether.
“As a counselor, it’s super hard to look at someone who’s 18 or 19 and hasn’t even reached that drinking age yet and say hey you’re never going to be able to drink successful because you’re an addict,” says Stephens of Miami Valley Recovery who treats those with severe alcohol issues with detox first then outpatient services.
“Even in three to five days of detox, you’re still trying to get the poison out of you. Even 30 days–your mind is just starting to clear up,” says Stephens. “I look at it as a gift. We’re giving you a gift. We care enough about you to give you this extra help.”
“I used to work detox at a hospital and the saddest thing I ever saw was a 31-year-old man dying. Jaundice, yellow in his eyes, body yellow with four kids under the age of ten sitting there saying dad please don’t die. But it was too late,” recalls Stephens, telling that story as a cautionary tale to others. “Thirty-one is super young to be dying from alcohol.”
Currently, the youngest patient they’re serving at Miami Valley Recovery is 21 years old, who’s already exhibiting signs of liver damage.
While Eason is going on two years sober and continues fighting daily, he also fights another battle. He was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2018. “Whether the alcohol is what contributed to that or– we don’t really know,” says Eason.
In remission since May 2020, he considers himself one of the lucky ones and continues helping others on their lifetime journey of recovery. “If I can help just one person avoid that misery that this disease can take you to, it wouldn’t matter how long I did it. It would be worth it,” says Eason. “Recovery is possible, and you don’t have to do it alone.”
HOW YOU CAN GET HELP
If you or someone you know needs help, here are some resources available in the Miami Valley.
- Get Help Now — Montgomery County ADAMHS: https://ghn.mcadamhs.org/
- ADDICTION AND RECOVERY CENTERS:
Miami Valley Recovery, LLC
1 Elizabeth Place Suite NWB40, Dayton
- North Dayton Addiction & Recovery
72 N. Dixie Dr., Vandalia
- Montgomery County ADAMHS
409 E. Monument Ave., Dayton