as told to Bethanie Gengler
“What does it take to really recognize that we have an issue here? We have so much data showing how Wisconsin is really not healthy for alcohol but data alone doesn’t change culture. Stories can be impactful where data can’t always be. THe stigma around substance use and addiction is huge. People think it’s a moral kind of behavioral decision making of why did you choose to do this? There’s also community context, we are Wisconsin, and we are proud of our alcohol culture. We don’t see it as a substance use disorder when people binge drink and here, we do that often. My husband and I were hit by a drunk driver on Highway 41 five years ago. This accident left him with a broken neck, a major head injury, and a year-long recovery period. There was a long stretch where I wasn’t sure if I would have my husband back due to his brain injury. This person’s decision to binge drink with her co-workers and drive a car has permanently affected my family. So, what’s it going to take to change the culture around alcohol in our community? What’s it going to take to change the stigma around substance use and addiction? How can we make it easier to ask for help, to realize we can’t do everything on your own? We need to prevent substance use. We also need to be supportive of people that are going through challenges around substance use. We need to support the families and become a recovery friendly community and end the shaming. I think the big message here is that there’s not one particular organization or agency that’s going to solve the issue. It takes a community, it takes working together, and it takes a systematic approach of looking at — what we can do to really for earlier intervention and how we can prevent overdose deaths from happening in the first place.”
Stephanie Gyldenvand of the Winnebago County Health Department is the coordinator for the Winnebago County Drug and Alcohol Coalition and is a member of the Overdose Fatality Review team, a group that’s taking steps to address overdose fatalities. For more FIXED stories, please visit www.uwosh.edu/fixed.