The nation’s focus on the opioid epidemic may be overshadowing another major behavioral health issue: alcoholism.
Police tell NBC 5 Investigates their alcohol-related calls are increasing and rehabilitation specialists said the majority of new clients seeking treatment have an alcohol-related problem.
“Because alcohol is legal and more socially acceptable and part of our culture, it has been a substance that has been misused more than other illicit drugs,” said Dr. Karen Wolwonik Albert, executive director of Gateway Foundation.
Officer Donna O’Brien of the Round Lake Park Police Department said she is responding to a fair number of calls involving alcohol, including domestic disagreements, fights and public intoxication.
“It’s been a problem all along and it continues to be a problem,” said O’Brien said. “It tears families apart and it doesn’t set a good example for small children.”
NBC 5 Investigates filed records requests with Chicago area sheriffs’ departments and found DUI arrests are increasing in DeKalb, LaSalle, Kane and McHenry Counties. Additionally, Cook County Sheriff’s deputies have nearly doubled their DUI arrests from 192 in 2016 to 370 in 2018.
Haymarket Center director Dr. Dan Lustig said 3,000 to 4,000 people die from alcohol every year in Illinois. He also said most of money used for prevention programs in Illinois has been exhausted.
“It is important to get prevention education back into schools so that people can learn about drugs and alcohol,” Lustig said.
Daryl Giacomini of Springfield said he received his fourth DUI arrest in November.
“The car that was in front of me slammed on their brakes for whatever reason and I rear-ended them and I would never want to hurt anybody or anything else,” Giacomini said.
Giacomini eventually entered treatment at Haymarket Center and is now attending regular AA meetings.
“It impacted me very hard, my family very hard,” Giacomini said.
Lucy Smith of Aurora said she was arrested for theft and spent time in prison as a result of her addiction to alcohol.
“I didn’t have probably as many arrests or charges that I should have had because I wasn’t caught,” Smith said.
Smith’s last arrest occurred in 2011. She entered Kane County Drug Court and received treatment from the Gateway Foundation.
Smith is now sober and manages a fast-food restaurant.
“I have a life today. I have friends and family and a job. I’m accountable,” Smith said.
Still, police said getting people the help they need is proving to be a challenge.
“They will openly state that they’re not looking to get help, that this is who they are and they’re gonna continue on like this,” O’Brien said.
Lustig said he supports an increase in the alcohol tax.
“It is geared and should be geared for treatment,” Lustig said. “But this is something we want to have immediate impact in saving lives.”
Lustig said alcoholism costs the Illinois economy $9.3 billion a year in the form of lost work, health care costs and crime.
“This is a medical disorder and we need to treat it as a medical disorder,” Lustig said. “This is an issue that has stayed silent far too long.”