When the storms of life happen, professional help is always available. Photo: C. Leinbach

Ask a Mental Health Professional Installment #6

By Earle Irwin

Question: What do you do if someone you love is drinking too much, but doesn’t see the drinking as a problem, even though most other friends and family members have turned away, disgusted by this person’s behaviors and offensive words? What is the best way to approach a person like that? I don’t want to be confrontational. If I do approach the person, I want to be prepared with a list of resources that are available to someone on Ocracoke with an alcohol problem.

Response: I’ll answer the second part of your question first. A new, much needed resource available to all residents of Ocracoke is provided through Hyde County Health Department. Dustin Eaton, Substance Awareness Coordinator, and Mike Wheeler, Post-Overdose Response Coordinator, recently visited the island to introduce themselves and share information about services they provide.

Dustin promotes substance awareness and education in schools and in the community, conducts most naloxone education and distribution, and coordinates naloxone training sessions.  Mike offers peer support and post overdose response services; he will be certified as a Peer Support Specialist this month.

Dustin Eaton

Together, they provide outreach to individuals and organizations within the community, coordinate and operate the syringe services program and handle treatment navigation for anything substance-use related.

Peer support programming for the counties of Hyde, Beaufort, Martin, Tyrell and Washington is coordinated by J.D. Rea. He is responsible for recruiting individuals in recovery to be trained as Certified Peer Support Specialists (CPSS), as well as supporting these trained specialists as they offer peer support services throughout the five-county region.

Their goals include organizing and facilitating a Narcotics Anonymous group in Hyde County; completing training in HIV and Hepatitis C rapid testing to then offer treatment navigation services for individuals who are affected in addition to the Hepatitis C treatment that Hyde County Health Department currently offers.  

Mike Wheeler

Contact any of them with questions about how to access substance abuse resources or treatment.
Dustin Eaton     deaton@hydehealth.com                   252-422-1913
Mike Wheeler   mwheeler@hydehealth.com             252-422-2936
J.D. Rea            jrea@hydehealth.com                      252-926-4371

Two support programs are available on Ocracoke.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

From the national website  https://www.aa.org/Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical, and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem.

Go to: https://www.aaobx.com/  for local information and a hotline number to call anytime to be connected to an AA member.

AA meetings on Ocracoke are held three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7 p.m. While COVID-19 restrictions are in place, meetings are conducted via Zoom. To enter zoom meeting the code is: 924-677-1805 and password is 0822.

Celebrate Recovery
From the national website: https://www.celebraterecovery.com/Celebrate Recovery is a Christ-centered, 12-step recovery program for anyone struggling with addiction, abuse, trauma, grief, or any hurt or hang-up that affects your life. Celebrate Recovery is a safe place to find community and freedom from the issues that are controlling your life.  Local meetings are held at Life Saving Church, 6 p.m. on Thursdays.

Additional Online Resources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)  https://www.samhsa.gov/:  available 24 /7 with information, a treatment locator, and free publications including materials to educate family members about unhealthy roles they may be playing in the life of an alcoholic.

To answer the first part of your question—how to reach out to a loved one about a drinking problem–I discussed possible approaches with Dustin and Mike.

Often, we do not know how someone will react when we choose to address substance misuse. First and foremost: the reality of the situation is that you cannot change someone else’s behavior. You can present your concerns in such a way that they may see things more clearly and get the help they need. You are on target for wanting to talk about your loved one’s behavior if you have been hurt or endangered by them when they are drinking, their behavior makes you nervous, or you have had to call or thought about calling law enforcement because you feared for their safety or others’ safety as impacted by their drinking.

You may have additional concerns to be addressed such as the amount of money spent on alcohol or how their drinking seems to take priority over other responsibilities. While you want to help, please consider how to protect yourself so that a negative reaction or outcome does not consume you. For example, your loved one’s drinking is not your fault, no matter what they may imply. An excellent resource to help you prepare yourself is Al-Anon for families and friends of alcoholics. Go to their website:  https://al-anon.org/

When you’re ready to approach your loved one, pick a time when everyone is well-rested and clear-headed, not when the individual is actively drinking or under the influence. Such a conversation is likely to trigger a range of emotions that could get out of hand. Consider asking another trusted family member or friend to be present when this conversation is initiated. Try to approach with genuine concern and without judgment yet protect your own emotions if the loved one becomes accusatory or obstinately refuses to participate in the discussion.

You are wise in your plan to come to this discussion armed with a list of resources—such as those outlined in the first half of this article. Perhaps your loved one will consider as a first step attending one of the meetings on Ocracoke.

If you want to be ready in case they decide they want to go immediately into treatment, consider calling Mike or Dustin well ahead of the meeting to learn what level of care and what facilities may be most appropriate, matched to medical insurance or financial status, so you can have the phone numbers on hand for your loved one to call.

Good luck! Your loved one is fortunate to have in their life someone such as you who is genuinely concerned about their well-being and now well-informed in ways to help.

Earle Irwin, a retired clinical nurse specialist, is on Ocracoke until the end of July to help islanders cope with Dorian aftermath and any other issues they may be dealing with. Her support services are available to you at no charge. 703-863-1243 or earleirwin@gmail.com.

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