As alcohol-related deaths rise in Oregon, OHA wants to spark more conversations around excessive drinking

By Rolando Hernandez (OPB)
Dec. 11, 2023 2 p.m.

Many Oregonians will be gathering together over the holiday season to celebrate with friends and loved ones. But as alcohol consumption and alcohol-related deaths rise in the state, the Oregon Health Authority is hoping people will have more conversations around alcohol consumption.

“One in five people living in Oregon are excessively drinking,” said Tom Jeanne, deputy health officer and epidemiologist with OHA. “Many of them may not realize that their level of drinking is excessive.”


Excessive drinking is defined as having more than 15 drinks a week for men and more than 8 drinks a week for women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over the last three years Oregon has seen a nearly 40% increase in alcohol-related deaths. OHA also notes the financial impact this has had on the state, costing $4.8 billion a year in health care, criminal justice and motor vehicle accidents.

Liquor on the shelves at Rose City Liquor Store in Northeast Portland on Feb. 28, 2022.

Liquor on the shelves at Rose City Liquor Store in Northeast Portland on Feb. 28, 2022.

Courtney Sherwood / OPB

Mike Winer, assistant director of the Hooper Detox Stabilization Center in Portland and assistant professor in addiction medicine at OHSU, says that last year Hooper saw roughly 3,000 patients and about half of them had some form of alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Yet many more people have trouble accessing services.

“Of the 30 million folks that we know have an alcohol use disorder in our country, we know that fewer than around 8% really access treatment,’ Winer said.


Though less than 2% of people who access treatment receive it through medication, Winer notes that naltrexone, acamprosate and disulfiram have been shown to help reduce the urge to drink.

“They’ve been shown to help people who are ready to, or decide they want to stop using alcohol to actually achieve that.”

OHA’s goal with their recent “Rethink the Drink” campaign isn’t to get Oregonians to stop drinking, but think more about the role alcohol has in our daily lives. This is the second iteration of the campaign to launch, the first being last summer, which the state agency said was a success.

“We were really thrilled with the results from it,” Jeanne said. “It did increase knowledge and awareness of what excessive drinking is, and got people to think more about their drinking habits, and maybe planning on cutting back.”

When it comes to scaling back the drinks you have, Mike Winer says that strategies like dry January can help, but really it’s about meeting people where they are and what they want to accomplish: whether that be only drinking socially, keeping it to just the weekends or spacing out your drinks with water on the days you plan on drinking. “My goal is to never tell somebody they have to stop drinking,” Winer said. “Sometimes they’re not ready to stop drinking and they don’t want to. They want to reduce their drinking. And so those strategies can really be helpful.”

Research does show that pricing and taxes on alcohol plays a role in reducing consumption. HB 3610, which passed this past legislative session, creates a 20-person task force that will study whether an increased tax on alcohol could improve addiction services.

Jeanne says that OHA recognizes the role that Oregon’s alcohol industry has on the state’s economy, but the agency’s ultimate goal is to educate Oregonians.

“We’re not trying to eliminate or prohibit drinking alcohol as a whole,” Jeanne said. “This effort is trying to minimize the harm.”

Tom Jeanne and Mike Winer joined OPB’s Think Out Loud to discuss alcohol consumption in the state. You can listen to the full conversation here: