What Is Binge Drinking, Anyway?

Reading Time: 4 minutes

New year’s resolutions aren’t for everyone. Making big plans and setting high expectations for the months to come can seem too burdensome for some—and that’s totally fine! The beginning of a new year does present a good opportunity to reflect on the prior year, though. An opportunity to think about the things that we’d like to work on or change.

This past year was definitely a doozy, and it wouldn’t be surprising if some of our routines were uprooted or thrown out the window entirely. While, before last March, it might not have been acceptable to take a meeting in sweats, or to shower in the middle of the workday, we’ve adapted and made concessions out of pure necessity.

Perhaps, for some, one of these concessions has been around drinking habits. While it was once acceptable to have an occasional glass of wine over dinner or a few cocktails on the weekend, now a quaran-tini (or two) each night has become the standard.

While it’s perfectly fine to have a drink here and there, it is important to monitor one’s drinking habits. When does drinking become “too much,” and when do rates of consumption go from healthy to possibly dangerous?

Isolation, the disruption of routine, and an inability to use pre-COVID coping mechanisms can cause one to feel especially vulnerable during times of crisis. Partnered with other stressors like economic uncertainty or unemployment, an individual may be at increased risk of developing a reliance on alcohol or other substances in order to cope.

What is binge drinking?

Not everyone who drinks—even regularly—engages in binge drinking. Even still, the definition of “binge drinking” may surprise you.

Moderate drinking, for men, is drinking no more than 15 drinks per week and no binge drinking. For women, the limit is seven drinks per week, with no binge drinking.

Binge drinking, however, is defined as drinking five or more drinks in a two-hour period for men, and four or more drinks in that same two-hour period for women.

Note: Women metabolize alcohol less efficiently than men, meaning they have higher concentrations of it in their blood when they drink the same amount.

The CDC states that one in six US adults binge drinks about four times a month, consuming about seven drinks per binge, with the highest percentage of binge drinking happening amongst 25-34 year olds. A person who binge drinks may or may not have an alcohol use disorder.

Recent Findings

A recent study published in the American Journal of Alcohol & Drugs Abuse reported that “thirty-four percent [of those studied] reported binge drinking during the COVID-19 pandemic.” It was also found that more binge drinkers increased alcohol consumption during the pandemic (60%) than non-binge drinkers (28%). And for every one-week increase in time spent at home during the pandemic, there were greater odds of binge drinking.

Also of note was that binge drinkers with a previous diagnosis of depression and current depression symptoms had greater odds of increased alcohol consumption compared to those reporting no depression.

Why can it be dangerous?

Binge drinking is associated with many short- and long-term health problems. Short-term side effects include:

  • Poor balance and coordination
  • Nausea
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Hangover
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Poor decision-making
  • Memory loss

From the American Addiction Centers, some long-term effects of repeated binge drinking include: alcoholism, brain damage, liver damage, cardiovascular disease, and even sexual dysfunction.

Tips for a healthier relationship with alcohol

Keep track. Whether you can keep track in your mind, or you need something in writing to help you monitor throughout the week, it may be a good idea to have a system in place. Did you have a few drinks over the weekend? Maybe take a break for a few days this week. Even taking a couple days off from alcohol can help your physical (and even mental) wellbeing!

Count and measure. Being your own bartender at home can surely be cost efficient, but it can also pose a challenge for proper measuring! According to NIAAA, a standard alcoholic drink is 12 ounces of regular beer (usually about 5% alcohol), 5 ounces of wine (typically about 12% alcohol), and 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits (about 40% alcohol). Keep these measurements in mind when pouring (and counting) drinks.

Set goals. Along these same lines, try setting some goals for yourself over the coming weeks. Maybe it isn’t realistic right now to cut out alcohol together. How about cutting out a drink here and there to start, and work your way into a healthier routine? Don’t get discouraged if you lapse or if you have to start over. Changing behaviors can be extremely difficult—but also entirely doable! Maybe set a goal with a friend or loved one so that you can work toward a common goal together, while also keeping one another accountable.

Find alternatives. If having a drink at 5 o’clock has become the norm recently, try replacing this habit with something else. Try taking a walk during this time, or taking a hot bath. If having a drink makes you feel calm, find something that provides a similar sensation. If you feel like a drink is a nice way to treat yourself after a long day, find something else that feels like a little reward. Just be sure not to replace one unhealthy habit with another!

Avoid “triggers.” A trigger can be anything that causes you to want to drink. This could be something stressful like watching the nightly news or scrolling social media. However, it can be something pleasurable like cooking a meal or video-chatting with a friend. It is important to recognize what your triggers are in order to plan for and work through it.

Remember non-alcoholic drinks. For some people, just having alcohol in the house can pose a difficulty in regulating consumption. If this is the case, move the alcohol out of the refrigerator, or avoid having it in the home altogether. Try having something in the fridge that you can go to instead when you’re craving a drink. Carbonated water (which comes in a variety of flavors) can be a nice go-to, or even diet soda.

Need more help?

Need a little extra help? That’s okay! The Washington Recovery Helpline is a great resource available to all Washingtonians who may be struggling with substance use. Call 1-866-789-1511 to speak with a specialist (available 24/7/365). You can also text this same number during Monday-Friday between 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. for treatment options, resources, and referrals.

You can also access www.skagithelps.org for a list of helpful resources.


Preventing Poisoning During COVID-19

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Earlier this month, the Washington Poison Center (WAPC) released its data “snapshot” for 2020. This is something that WAPC puts out annually in order to educate the public about poisoning trends at the state level. These trends are based on the types of calls that WPAC’s hotline receives throughout the year, compared to years prior.

This year has been one for the books in so many ways, and the new data snapshot tells an interesting story. I had the opportunity to talk with one of WPAC’s staff, and I’d like to share what I learned.

But first: What is the Washington Poison Center (WAPC)?

The Washington Poison Center (WAPC) provides immediate, free, and expert treatment advice and assistance on the telephone in case of exposure to poisonous, hazardous, or toxic substances. Each year, its specialists answer more than 63,000 calls from Washingtonians related to poisoning and toxic exposures. All calls are free, confidential, and help is available 24/7/365.

Major Takeaways

COVID-19 has increased our risks of accidental poisoning. Period. So what is the reason for this increase? WAPC staff believe that it is due to several factors, including:

  • We are home more due to social distancing and other safety guidance
  • We may have new daily routines this year that are out of the ordinary
  • More products in the home (perhaps due to stockpiling) may cause increased access
  • More stress can cause people to be less focused
  • Rumors and misinformation can lead to dangerous choices

Calls to the Center have increased in 2020, and staff have seen spikes in calls regarding substances common to COVID prevention (hand sanitizer and household cleaners). They have also seen spikes in calls for vulnerable demographics like adolescents and adults over 60.

This data is concerning, and parallels poison trends across the U.S.

Cleaners & Sanitizers

It isn’t unusual for WAPC to receive calls about household cleaners; however, this year has definitely seen a serious uptick. Most calls have been in regards to accidental poisonings, or poisonings due to misuse (mixing products, using in low ventilated areas, etc).

The vast majority of hand sanitizer exposures have been in children ages 0-12, most likely due to increased access to the products in the home. The high alcohol content in these products can be very dangerous for young children, so it is extremely important to supervise kids when using hand sanitizer and to make sure that bottles are always out of reach.

Nicotine

An interesting find this year has been the decrease in nicotine exposure calls. In 2020, nicotine exposure in children ages 0-5 actually decreased—a trend that even WAPC staff were a bit surprised about. Perhaps the decrease is due to parents being home more? Or perhaps the new Tobacco 21 law has decreased access to these products? While it is difficult to pinpoint direct correlations, it is certainly nice to see this type of data!

That said, it is still very important to keep nicotine products stored safely and away from children. The vast majority of calls for 0-5 year old’s were for raw tobacco, with vape products in second. WAPC staff explained that raw tobacco can be dangerous, but vape liquid—if ingested—can be fatal. Always, always, keep these products away from children, as flavored liquids can be especially enticing to little kids.

Cannabis

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

Trends for THC exposure are less rosy. All age groups saw an increase in THC exposures this year, with a sizeable increase among children 0-5. Among this group, exposures were almost 100% due to unintentional use (getting a hold of an edible, plant-based product, or concentrate). Safe and secure storage of these products is crucial to keeping kids safe.

Medications

This is another area that has historically been a concern for WAPC, however COVID has exacerbated the problem. Stress, distractions, and new routines can lead to user error and poor judgement. WAPC staff encourage people to use medication lists, trackers, and reminders in order to decrease risk of double-dosing or mixing meds.

It is also encouraged that people secure medications in the home. This simple step can decrease the likelihood of accidental poisonings in young children, or misuse among adolescents.

Adolescent Self-harm

By far, this data tells the most worrisome story. Historically, data has shown an increase in youth self-harm/suicidal intent since 2014, and this trend continues. COVID-19 related isolation and stress may increase these risks—something that mental health experts have been concerned about for months.

WAPC 2020 Data Snapshot

It is encouraging, however, to see this data and to realize just how amazing our kids are. Despite all the ups and downs of 2020, our youth are showing resilience in magnitudes. We must not forget that we can all make a positive difference everyday in the lives of our young people.

Two steps that each of us can take today are: 1) locking up medications (even over-the-counter meds like Tylenol and Advil); and 2) talking to our children about substance use. Don’t know where to start with this? Visit Start Talking Now for some ideas.

What to expect when you call

It doesn’t need to be an emergency to call the Washington Poison Center—you can call to get advice or directions if you are concerned or confused about poison-related issues.

You will speak with an expert (nurse, pharmacist, or poison information provider), and there are always Board Certified Medical Toxicologists on-call if necessary. You are not required to give your name, however providing your age and gender can be extremely helpful in order to gauge risk. What was taken, when, and how much are other vital details to provide to the staff.

These calls are always confidential. You do not need to be worried about law enforcement or CPS getting involved. WAPC is concerned about your safety and about providing care.

Staff are trained to provide direction on what to do, what to watch for, and most of the time this can all happen with the caller at home. If/when it is decided that the caller needs medical intervention, staff can advise the caller to go to the emergency room, or WAPC can actually contact EMS on the caller’s behalf.

Finally, WAPC staff will follow-up with you—just to make sure that everything is alright!

It is important to be vigilant when it comes to poisoning prevention—now more than ever. With that said, I feel comforted in knowing that there are trained professionals available to answer my questions. If you don’t have the Washington Poison Center’s phone number somewhere in your home, I encourage you to jot it down! 1-800-222-1222

You never know when you might need it!

To view the Washington Poison Center’s full data report, visit: www.wapc.org/programs/covid-19-resources-information/covid-19-data/.


Let’s Talk About It…Domestic Violence During COVID-19

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Guest blog post by staff at Skagit DVSAS

This past month of October, we at Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services (Skagit DVSAS) participated in Domestic Violence Awareness Month. On Purple Thursday, October 15th, we asked the community to join us in wearing purple in support of survivors. Using social media, we were able to come together to raise awareness for domestic violence in our community. Skagit community members joined us in showing support by sharing pictures of themselves wearing purple to our Facebook page, helping to raise awareness and show survivors that Skagit cares.

October may be over, but we know that domestic violence is not. We also know that the community still cares, now, and every month of the year! At Skagit DVSAS, we believe that we all have the power to end abuse through our individual and collective efforts. Abuse can be a difficult and scary topic for a lot of us, and it is okay not to know where to start.

Let’s Talk

The first thing we can all do to prevent and put an end to abuse in our community is to start talking about it! Talking about domestic violence raises awareness, and increases understanding for those going through it. There are many myths and stigmas that surround interpersonal violence and make survivors feel that they are not believed or valid. We can challenge those stigmas by letting people know that abuse is a very real thing in many people’s lives, and that it is never the survivors’ fault. Talking about domestic violence can also look like sharing community resources with others, such as our Skagit DVSAS 24-hour crisis hotline for survivors of domestic and sexual violence.

Red Flags

Another way to take action against domestic violence in our daily lives is to learn about red flags that may indicate someone is experiencing violence in their life. When we know what signs to look for, we are better able to support our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. Red flags can be both physical and behavioral. Someone who is experiencing abuse may have unexplained bruises or other injuries, sudden onset of pain and illness, or chronic pain. They may isolate themselves, or never want to be alone, may experience anxiety, depression, panic, dissociation, anger, hostility, and low self-esteem. They might also be nervous to be around their partner and can be hypervigilant or the opposite.

This is just a short list of some of the signs that someone is experiencing abuse, but the most important red flag to pay attention to is any sudden or unexplained change in behavior. When you have a gut feeling that something is wrong, trust it! Checking in about what is going on lets the person experiencing abuse know that there is someone who cares about them and is concerned for their safety.

If you know someone who has previously experienced abuse or is currently experiencing abuse, the most powerful way you can support them is to believe their story, validate their feelings, and allow them to make their own decisions. Domestic violence is the abuse of power in a relationship that takes control away from the survivor. When we allow them to make their own choices, we can help to give that power back.

Show Support

Finally, you do not have to be an expert in domestic violence to support survivors! You only need to be a caring friend, neighbor, or community member. If the person you are supporting would like to talk to someone who is an expert, we at Skagit DVSAS are always available. DVSAS can provide emotional support, crisis intervention, safety planning, support groups, legal and medical advocacy, and emergency shelter. We have Spanish speaking advocates and interpretive services, as well as community prevention education services available for schools and community groups. DVSAS serves everyone regardless of age, sex, identity, and immigration status, and all of our services are free and confidential. Please do not hesitate to reach out and to share us as a resource. We are still open and serving the community during the COVID-19 pandemic and are providing all of our services over the phone. Our professionals at DVSAS can be reached at (360) 336-9591 for questions, support, and for arranging community education events online.

We believe in the power of knowledge, resources, and community action to put an end to domestic violence in our community.


Skagit County COVID-19 Mortgage Relief Grant Program

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Have you missed your mortgage payment because your income has been negatively impacted by COVID-19? You may be eligible for assistance.

Funding is available to help homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments because their income has fallen due to COVID-19. This one-time grant is for eligible Skagit County residents to pay up $6,000 of past-due or currently due mortgage payments per household as a result of a temporary job loss, reduction in work hours or other income hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applications are available online and will be accepted until November 23, or until all funds have been spent. Completed applications can be mailed or hand-delivered from 9am-4pm to Skagit County Public Health, 700 S 2nd Street, Mount Vernon, WA 98273.

Eligible Uses of Funds

Direct payments will be made to the mortgage company on the applicant’s behalf. No payments will be made directly to the applicant. Payments may be used for mortgage principal, interest and Private Mortgage Insurance, but not for escrowed items like property taxes or hazard insurance.

How do I know if my income qualifies?

To qualify, your household’s current adjusted gross income (AGI) has to be at or below 50 percent of the Area Median Income.  See the table below.

What if my household income is currently over the limit?

Unfortunately, you are ineligible for this assistance if your household income is above the maximum amount. If you can’t pay your mortgage, or can only pay a portion, you should contact your mortgage company immediately.  You should also know that if you have a federally insured or backed mortgage, there is currently a foreclosure moratorium that runs through December 31, 2020. Homeownership counseling and assistance is available to all Washington residents, and you can call the Washington Department of Financial Institutions toll-free number 1-877-RING-DFI (746-4334) for assistance. 

Contact for Skagit Mortgage Assistance Program Questions:

Skagit County Public Health
(360) 416-1500
housing@co.skagit.wa.us