Tulare County ranks fourth in the state in heavy drinking, unemployment

Substance abuse prevention program links excessive drinking to unemployment in addition to other factors

TULARE COUNTY – Tulare County recently ranked fourth on a list of California counties with the highest ratios of heavy drinking to unemployment.

The study, conducted nationwide by the American Addiction Centers’ National Rehab Directory, found that California ranks 23rd in the country when it comes to rates of unemployed people who drink heavily. Alaska placed first and Utah placed last. The study is available at https://rehabs.com/explore/heavy-alcohol-drinking-california/ .

Of California counties, Tulare County ranked as No. 4–the highest in the Central Valley–with 50,843 excessive drinkers and a 9.6% unemployment rate. Imperial County placed first with nearly 20,000 excessive drinkers and an 18.3% unemployment rate, and Santa Clara placed last with 210,252 excessive drinkers and an unemployment rate of 2.5%. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines heavy alcohol use as binge drinking, or drinking until your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) is at least 0.08 percent, five or more days out of the month. 

“The stress that unemployment causes, this disruption of not having a reliable income source–it creates stress among adults,” said Aide Sanchez, prevention program manager at The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Tulare County. “When you have children that rely on you to provide for them and you can’t, and you’re already dealing with issues like depression, it adds to it. They’re needing an escape outlet.”

Geography and income also play roles in rates of substance abuse. All of the top 29 counties on the list–Los Angeles ranked as No. 30–are in rural parts of California. 24 of those 29 have a median household income below $55,000. 

“There’s the isolation–we’re very rural. Sometimes people can’t get the help that they need,” Sanchez said. “I think our biggest issue still is not having enough programs, or people not having the ability to access programs. At the moment, a lot of our residential programs are full and we have a few beds, versus how many people are needing them.”

Even when there is space, not everyone has the means to pursue treatment. Sanchez said that without insurance, most residential treatment facilities can cost up to $500 per day.

“It can go from zero to hundreds of dollars a day if they don’t have any means,” Sanchez said.

Options like outpatient treatment and support groups tend to be more affordable, but there are still other factors that keep people from seeking help. For instance, Sanchez noted that immigration status can be a barrier for people seeking substance abuse treatment, especially in the county’s Hispanic and Latino communities. 

“They’re fearful,” Sanchez said. “If they’re immigrants and they’re trying to get their documents in order, how will this affect them? There’s a lot of fears associated with getting assistance.”

An article published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in 2017 noted that stress related to immigration status had a statistically significant association with alcohol use severity in recently-immigrated Hispanic and Latino adults. This, compounded with other factors that impact communities in Tulare County–unemployment being one of them–sheds some insight into why local rates of substance use disorders are so high. 

There are several facilities and organizations throughout the county that offer support and treatment regarding substance abuse and addiction. This includes the 2-1-1 Tulare County hotline, funded by the Mental Health Department at Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency and TulareWORKs, that connects people to recovery resources and services through its non-emergency 2-1-1 number. 

“I can honestly say Tulare County has done a lot,” Sanchez said. “We could always do more, but I think our county is doing its best with what we have.”

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