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Alcohol Culture Fully Entrenched in North Dakota

PHOTO: Counselors who have worked in North Dakota for decades say there is a growing trend of prescription drug abuse, but alcohol is still the most commonly abused. CREDIT: Jason Scrags
PHOTO: Counselors who have worked in North Dakota for decades say there is a growing trend of prescription drug abuse, but alcohol is still the most commonly abused. CREDIT: Jason Scrags
April 23, 2013

BEULAH, N.D. - Trends in drug abuse in the nation are continually changing, but one constant over the decades has been that alcohol is the most commonly abused substance. In North Dakota, the drinking culture is an even bigger problem, according to addiction counselor Darlene White.

"Alcohol is always the steadiest thing. It's around the most. It's probably the most damaging physically," she said. "If you're using it on a really regular heavy basis, it damages every organ in the body and, of course, the mind also."

According to the state Department of Health, North Dakotans' purchase of volume of alcohol per person and the binge drinking rate in the state are among the highest in the nation.

While the issues with alcohol have remained, one major change, noted White, is the growing abuse of prescription drugs. Another shift over the years has been in addiction treatment, with more residential programs because the insurance requirements for inpatient care have become harder to meet.

"For instance, I've worked for 32 years at the state hospital in Jamestown," she recounted. "We had at one time close to 200 beds for addiction, and I think they're down to less than 20 beds now, if you don't count the programs through the legal system."

White now practices at Coal Country Community Health Center in Beulah, which offers alcohol and drug evaluations on a sliding-fee scale for those who are uninsured or under-insured. Another counselor at Coal Country is Sharold Oster, who noted that substance abuse also has become more criminalized.

"We have the war on drugs," Oster said. "We have created this huge population of 'prisoners of (the drug) war.' Our penitentiaries and county jails are full of drug addicts."

But it's not just those involved with drugs that are in North Dakota jails. Research shows 44 percent of all adult arrests in the state are alcohol-related.

More information is at bit.ly/Y0blCl and at bit.ly/10uhZlZ.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - ND