As 2020 continues to be an extraordinarily stressful time for many, concerns about — and rates of — substance misuse and stress are going up. But for some, September, which is National Recovery Month is celebratory.
“September’s a time for us to celebrate,” said Tiffany Hall, executive director of Recover Alaska, an Anchorage-based nonprofit dedicated to supporting alcohol recovery initiatives in Alaska. “It’s a nice kind of shift from what we normally do. It’s a time to highlight people in recovery and the work they’ve done.”
Alaska’s rates of alcohol-induced deaths were nearly double the United States average for 2017, the last year in which national data are available, according to the Department of Health and Social Services. This is specifically deaths caused by excessive consumption, without factoring for accidental deaths in which intoxication was a major factor, such as drowning, exposure or vehicle crashes, Hall said.
“That number is very likely under-reported,” Hall said. “There are a lot of accidents or unintended injuries due to alcohol. Same with a lot of violence. Unless alcohol is the primary cause, I don’t know if it’s listed as an alcohol-related death.”
Hall said she has seen both national and state-level reports that indicate a return to or increase in use of alcohol. She specifically referenced a survey by Alasa Mental Health Trust Authority.
The survey reported that 33% of Alaskans reported drinking more than before the pandemic. It also reported that more than half who sought drug or alcohol treatment services had difficulty obtaining them.
“They often say addiction is a disease of isolation and community is the answer,” Hall said. “We have had a lot of people reaching out to us specifically asking what do we do now?”
With many in-person support groups no longer able to hold in person meetings due to the coronavirus, the support for those in recovery has become trickier to provide. So Recover Alaska moved to an all-digital platform for this year’s Recovery Month.
“There’s a playlist of sober artists. There’s a link to the Step Away app (an Alaska doctor-created app to promote healthier drinking choices). There’s a message from Dr. (Anne) Zink congratulating recovering people,” Hall said. “There’s a calendar on the wall listing all the events we’re aware of that’s happening this month.”
The Hangover Free Brunch, scheduled for 9:30 a.m., Saturday, Sept. 26, will include yoga, meditation, and other events. Chris Marshall, the creator of the Austin, Texas,- based Sans Bar, a non-alcoholic establishment, will be teaching viewers of the online brunch how to make a sober cocktail as well as talking about how to fit in and enjoy social scenes that emphasize drinking as a key part.
Other organizations are also supporting the month in their own way. In Juneau, the Juneau Suicide Prevention Coalition, while also celebrating National Suicide Awareness Month also recognized the destabilizing effects addictions can have on mental health.
“When we mask (problems) with something that isn’t necessarily promoting good health, it doesn’t put us in a good state,” said JSPC director Aaron Surma. “It leads us to decisions or impulsivity that we might not otherwise make.”
Surma equated making healthy choices about alcohol and other intoxicating substances to small changes that can have big downstream effects- changing one’s oil so you don’t later have to replace the engine, so to speak.
Know & go
What: Hangover Free Brunch
When: 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 26
Admission: Free with registration.
Recover Alaska’s website has a variety of resources for those seeking assistance or information.
The JSPC also has resources. They’re launching a new VA-backed initiative aimed at veterans, meeting Sept. 24. Registration is here.