April is alcohol awareness month…

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Message in a bottle

Alaska leads the nation in alcohol abuse.


Steve MacDonald of KTUU News in Anchorage quoted Major Sherry McWhorter, divisional social service secretary for Alaska, in a recent newscast about the state’s alcohol abuse program. In Part 1 of the “Message in a Bottle” series on the 6:00 p.m. news, he introduced McWhorter, who revealed that 14 percent of Alaska’s population suffers from alcoholism, which is twice the national average.

“There have been a lot of theories presented about that,” said McWhorter. “One is seasonal affective disorder, isolation, etc. But in some ways, I think it is part of the wilderness tradition—the rugged frontier image that people drink a lot. I don’t know if there is just one answer to that issue.”

MacDonald went on to state that whatever the reason, Alaska’s high rate of alcohol abuse comes with a hefty price tag. It is estimated that every year the economic impact of alcohol and substance abuse in the state is a staggering $800 million, which includes increased costs for public safety, health care and public assistance.

Lt. Nancy Reeder of the Anchorage Police Department (APD) commented, “I think it’s [alcohol abuse] a problem that, through the years, has become more socially unacceptable. But we still don’t seem to have a handle on it.” As head of the traffic division for APD, Reeder also sees the human costs. Of the 14 traffic deaths in Alaska last year, six involved drunk drivers.

“I think the mentality is you drink and drink and drink, and it’s not going to happen to you,” said Reeder. “And that’s a scary mentality, to realize that someone can drink themselves to four or five times the legal limit and think it’s okay to get behind the wheel of a car because they don’t believe they’re intoxicated. It’s the biggest mind-set that we see.”

The Salvation Army is a beacon of hope in the Last Frontier, remaining on the forefront in providing affordable, professional prevention and treatment services in several of its programs, including the Adult Rehabilitation Program, Booth Memorial Youth and Family Services and the Clitheroe Center.

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