Every April since 1987, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month. The goal is to increase the understanding of causes and treatment for alcohol addiction, as well as to reduce the stigma associated with it. Local communities are encouraged to participate and bring awareness to this issue, as well as offer resources for residents.  

Zydalis Bauer spoke with Dino Bedinelli, Executive Director at Compass Recovery in Feeding Hills, and Antonia Santiago, Clinical Director, to learn more about this disease and what their organization is doing to help. 

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Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: Every April since 1987, the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependance has sponsored Alcohol Awareness Month to increase the understanding of causes and treatment for alcohol addiction, as well as to reduce the stigma associated with it.

Local communities are encouraged to participate and bring awareness to this issue, as well as offer resources. I spoke with Dino Bedinelli, executive director at Compass Recovery in Feeding Hills, and Antonia Santiago, clinical director, to learn more about this disease and what their organization is doing to help

Dino Bedinelli, Compass Recovery: Addiction in general is a killer. I mean, the reason it’s important to shed light on the disease of addiction is because many people don’t actually recognize that it is a disease. And like any disease, it’s chronic, it’s progressive, and it’s fatal. And so, it’s very important for people to understand that.

I mean, that’s the biggest stigma with addiction, right? Is, you know, if I said to you, “oh, I have cancer,” people don’t expect you to just get better. You know, they expect that the only way you’re going to get better is if you have treatment. But if someone struggles with alcohol or addiction, it’s like, “why can’t you just stop?” Alcohol so socially accepted, you know, it’s a legal drug. It’s socially accepted.

And what the normal definition of problem is, to the reality of what a problem is, it’s really a big gap. The CDC, they say that if, for a woman, if she drinks more than four drinks in one sitting or eight drinks in one week, that she has a substance abuse problem. For a man, if he drinks more than five drinks in one sitting or 15 in one week, he has a substance abuse issue.

And so it’s really important to shed this light on alcoholism because most people would be shocked to find out how little you actually have to be drinking to, you know, to have a problem.

Zydalis Bauer: Absolutely. And I think that the point you brought up about, you know, alcohol being a socially acceptable drug and it’s such a big part of our culture, with that is, there’s still a stigma around admitting that you have a problem as there once was?

Dino Bedinelli: There’s always stigmas around admitting somebody has a problem with anything. It’s not just like the stigma, it’s just a hard thing to do. It kind of goes against a lot of people’s nature.

Antonia Santiago, Compass Recovery: Especially like you mentioned, it’s so embedded in our culture. So, when COVID happened and quarantine what’s the first thing people were talking about? I’m going to have a drink at 9:00 or at 12:00 because there’s nothing else to do.

But that’s you know, it’s because it’s so embedded and it’s like, oh, it’s OK. But really, there’s so many issues and risks and dangers with drinking in that way.

Zydalis Bauer: Well, and that brings me to my next point, because at the start of this pandemic, many businesses were forced to temporarily shut down. However, liquor stores fell under that essential category and they were able to remain open.

Why was this the case, and did you see an increase in alcohol addiction or even relapse during the pandemic?

Dino Bedinelli: All substance use went up during the pandemic, right? And I think it’s kind of says a lot about our culture that liquor stores are an essential workers. You know, I mean, substance use thrives in a lack of connection.

What I mean by that is substance use, substance addiction chased people and it isolates them until eventually, all the people have left is their substance. The pandemic separated us, separated us, and separated us. So anybody during that time who already maybe was on the fringes of having a substance problem, now they’re even more isolated. So, now they’re really going to turn this up and use.

I think that’s one of the biggest things in that we are social creatures and alcohol especially, but other substances too, became, you know, people’s go to became the only thing they had to cope through those times.

Zydalis Bauer: Exactly. And like you said, the pandemic has been difficult for everyone. And so people who are struggling, it can be even more trying.

What are some of the triggers that can arise during these moments and how can they help manage them?

Dino Bedinelli: So, I mean, it’s triggers for substance use in general are — a lot of them are dependent on the individual people, places, things. That’s what you always hear, right? People, places, and things. I think the pandemic took away the positive people, places, and things. So, the isolation from the positive left people with that negative.

Antonia Santiago: And with the pandemic, you were able to use any other coping skills. You weren’t able to go out. Domestic violence also went up during the pandemic. So, all of that is correlated. So, if you are if you’re not able to go out, and take a break or escape or do some exercise outside or even go to the gym because they were close to now, you’re going to fall back onto those maladaptive coping skills like drinking, because it’s right there and they were open.

Zydalis Bauer: Now, one statistic that I saw that I’m sure probably has changed after the pandemic is that according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and about ninety five thousand Americans die from alcohol-related causes each year.

How early do you think alcohol awareness education should begin?

Dino Bedinelli: Parents should educate their children in the homes at an extremely young age. I think that should be part of society. I think every thirteen-year-old and above should know the reality of alcohol, not the scare tactics of alcohol, but the reality, the reality that, “hey, this is a substance that we as a society have deemed legal. This is a substance that we as a society really partake in and socially accept. But this is the substance that is extremely dangerous.” I mean, if not used properly, it’s going to ruin your life.

I mean, of all the substances, actually, once you become physically dependent on alcohol, that’s the worst of all of them to be physically dependent on. I mean, the detox is from alcohol can kill an individual. So it’s like literally the worst.

What really needs to be educated, though, is what does substance abuse really look like? Like, OK, hey, when you start having consequences financially, emotionally with your relationships, that’s a sign you might have a substance issue, right? When you start having consequences of these things as a result of your using and you still keep using, that’s a definite sign you have an issue.

Zydalis Bauer: No what resources are available for someone who is struggling with this substance abuse, especially those who don’t have the means to afford costly recovery programs?

Antonia Santiago: Yeah, so 12 step programs are amazing resource. And now with the pandemic, they’re even available online. I mean, they were available online before, but now even more accessible.

Connection. So, we always say that the opposite of addiction is connection. So, that 12 step program is going to give you that. But also talking to other folks who are in the same position as you, who you know, who can relate to you and you can relate to them. You can talk about some of the stuff that’s going on and cope in a more healthy way.

Dino Bedinelli: They honestly, because nothing works better than being somewhere where everybody there understands you.