Volume 106, Number 15 - April 9, 2009
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
Binge drinking, excessive alcohol lead state
Sublette County residents have many pastimes; there's snowboarding, snowmobiling and photography.
Then there's the popular not-so-healthy endeavor of excessive alcohol use, according to a 2007 needs assessment.
The county ranked first in the state for binge and extreme alcohol drinking, which includes 10 or more beverages consumed in a setting.
“The misconception that there's nothing to do in the county leads people to drink more here,” said Sublette County Treatment Court coordinator Kathy Anderson.
Anderson said she has seen the amount of DUI charges increase with the population in the county, from 18 charges in 2000 to 123 in 2008.
Binge and heavy drinking tend to raise a person's tolerance levels to alcohol. Having a higher tolerance to alcohol causes people not to realize when they're impaired, said Robena Downie, prevention specialist with High County Counseling and the Sublette County Prevention Coalition.
“That's why people are often really surprised when they get pulled over for a DUI, because often times they are not slurring, staggering or throwing up,” she said. “The more heavily you drink the more impaired your abstract thinking process becomes.”
The abstract thought process involves one's ability to solve problems.
“That is why in teens, heavy drinking equals poor grades and school performance,” she said.
Binge and extreme drinking also cause blackouts and events where a person feels conscious at the time, but afterward has no memory of what happened.
Heavy drinking also enhances a person’s risk for diseases of the liver, stomach and pancreas, as well as escalates the possibility of being assaulted, she said.
A Big Piney man, who preferred not to be named, visited Anderson at the county courthouse on Friday so that she could check his alcohol monitoring ankle bracelet, also known as a SCRAM device (Secure Continuous Remote Alcohol Monitor.)
He has to wear the bracelet until he goes to court for a DUI charge and is just one of the 123 people in the county dealing with a DUI charge.
“I know for one thing that there's nothing to do here and the next thing you know you're at the bar,” he said as Anderson removed the SCRAM device from his ankle and connected it to her computer.
She uses a software program to retrieve information from the device. It shows if alcohol has been consumed, a person's body temperature and if the device has been tampered with.
The bracelet must be worn against the skin and not underneath a sock, Anderson said.
“When your body is metabolizing alcohol you don't just get rid of it through urine, it also comes out through your skin,” she said. “There's a byproduct that is excreted through the skin and this device measures it.”
The SCRAM is typically used for DUI charges and sometimes for domestic violence cases involving alcohol. It can also be used during voluntary treatment for those suffering from an alcohol addiction, Anderson said.
“It's easy to get to a .08,” said the Big Piney resident, as Anderson put his alcohol-monitoring bracelet back on. His reading revealed that he had remained clean and hadn't consumed any alcoholic beverages within the past 30 days.
“It's a good reminder for you because you can't just take it off and start drinking,” he said.
The SCRAM bracelet has a locking device on it to keep people from removing it. The computer program also reveals if the bracelet has been removed or messed with.
Anderson said she feels intense drinking is an issue in the county due to the culture of the area and the nation.
“It really depends on which age group you're talking about, for those 25 and older it's more of a function of what one does after work,” she said. And getting drunk is also part of a culture that values hanging out and partying.
She said the matter of heavy drinking in the county could be due to the oil and gas field jobs because many people are working long and difficult hours and are miles away from their families.
“Though, I think (the issue) is larger than that, because this community has a history,” Anderson said. “It's more of a cultural thing.”
For the binge drinking to decrease in the county there would have to be a shift in the current culture, she said.
“There is often a perception that if we have an event alcohol should be a part of it and it is expected,” she said. “I think as a community we might want to stop and ask ourselves if we are setting the tone and an example that we want set.”
Downie agreed that Pinedale's population makeup and culture are characteristics for a binge drinking area, since there is a large male population and a culture that says drinking is a method for socializing.
“That sort of drinking (extreme drinking) might be an indicator of someone who suffers from alcoholism or is on the edge of it,” Downie said. “You have to have an extremely high tolerance to drink that much.”
She said another reason for excessive drinking in the county is that people aren't able to define how many alcoholic beverages equals safe drinking.
The television commercials advertise responsible drinking, but they don't define what that is, Downie said.
She said people often compare their drinking to their friends and others around them.
“If you compare yourself to other people and your friend has had 12 drinks in one night and you're had six then you might think you're doing great,” Downie said. “I think that people don't know what moderate drinking is.”
She and others from the Sublette County Prevention Coalition are in the process of developing a campaign on the issue of extreme drinking called 0-0-1-3. The zeros stand for no drinks if one is driving, underage or pregnant. The number one illustrates one alcoholic beverage within an hour and the number three represents having three drinks a night.
Downie doesn't recommend consuming alcohol every night, but people who do should limit themselves to having only two alcoholic beverages a night.
To address the problem of excessive drinking in the county, bars should state what moderate drinking parameters are and cut those off after a certain number of beverages, she said.
Downie said they should also serve smaller amounts of alcohol at a time.
“It's not just bars, binge drinking occurs at parties and social events,” she said. “People who host parties often don't know what to do when someone is drinking too much — they tend to just kind of let them go.”
Defining moderate drinking limitations would also help at these types of events.
“Talking to people, taking their keys, making sure there are alternatives and that you are serving water and other drinks besides just alcohol,” she said. That way people can have an alcoholic beverage and then a glass of water or soda.
For those who know someone who is an excessive drinker, talking with that person about the health concerns helps, Downie said.
“Just talk to them — research shows that if friends come to you and say they're concerned about your health, people actually respond to that,” she said. “It can't be in a confrontational, angry manner — it has to be 'we really care about you and we're worried that you're hurting yourself.”’
Downie said she and the Sublette County Prevention Coalition are not about prohibiting alcohol and making people who don't struggle with alcohol addictions stop drinking.
“What we mostly want is for people to be safe and have a good time and be safe going home and with the amount that they consume,” she said. “It's not a prohibition thing, it's a safety issue.”
Binge and heavy drinking can be dangerous to one's health and result in alcohol poisoning and that is also why moderate uses of alcohol is important, she said.
“In its most extreme cases binge drinking can cause death,” Downie said.
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