Summit looks at substance abuse in N.D.

BISMARCK — “Not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand. Life is good today.”

A catchy country music song … or another sign of alcohol’s prevalence in the country’s culture?

About 250 people are attending the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Summit this week in Bismarck. Substance abuse prevention and treatment professionals are exploring intervention, treatment and recovery options during the annual event.

One presentation included multiple examples of song lyrics that make alcohol sound attractive, including the above lyrics by the Zac Brown Band.

The song was played during a North Dakota high school sporting event, said Pam Sagness of the North Dakota Department of Human Services.

Concerts, sports stadiums, celebrities and music lyrics show alcohol as being part of having a good time.

People can say that’s how it’s always been, or that’s just the way it is, Sagness said. Or, they can start looking at how to change the culture.

In North Dakota, underage drinking costs the state about $141 million per year, she said. Almost half of all arrests are alcohol related. Alcohol is a contributing factor in 35 percent of domestic violence incidents.

The state is also No. 1 in binge-drinking rates for ages 18 to 25.

Yet, a survey of North Dakotans found 65.2 percent said adult alcohol use was a minor to moderate problem in their community.

“This tells you there is a lack of awareness of the extent of the problem in the state,” said JoAnne Hoesel, director of the state’s Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Division.

The state is looking into targeted strategies and new treatments, as well as acknowledging there are differences among communities and one size doesn’t fit all, she said.

“We have some issues here in North Dakota, but we’re going to be part of that solution,” Hoesel told conference participants.

One of the day’s speakers was Ken Winters of the University of Minnesota, who spoke about working with teens and young adults.

Adolescents may be the toughest age group to treat because they may go back to the same problems at school or home that contributed to the alcohol or drug use, he said.

The progress of brain maturation also makes this group susceptible to alcohol and drug use, Winters said. Young people have a preference for high excitement and low-effort activities and for activities with peers that trigger high intensity. There’s also less consideration of negative consequences.

When helping youth with alcohol or drug problems, express empathy and avoid arguing, Winters said. Try to get the person to realize the addiction is getting in the way of goals and include parents with the treatment process.

Ask the young person what they like about drugs or alcohol and why they keep doing it, and then ask what other things could fulfill those benefits, he said.

Other ideas include connecting teens with support groups, showing them healthier ways to cope with anxiety and depression, and helping them return to something they gave up because of their addition

The Alcohol and Substance Abuse Summit continues today in Bismarck.