Kristin Varner’s mother had seen enough.

She’d spent years watching her daughter’s endless spin of jobs, addresses, and failed rehab attempts. It was fall 2005. Kristin was only 27, but she’d already been drinking and using drugs since she was 15, and this latest freefall had no apparent floor.

“I would black out constantly, wake up with no recollection of what had happened the night before,” Kristin said. “My disease had taken over so much of my life that I was unable to do anything but drink.”

The bottle had blotted out her college degree, and Kristin was back at her parents’ house after burning through six restaurant and bar jobs over the year’s first eight months. It didn’t help that she’d recently totaled her car – which she had no funds to fix.

Her mom was done.

“She said, ‘I can drop you off at rehab, or I can drop you off at a friend’s house,’” Kristin said. “But I didn’t have any friends at that time. Nobody wanted me. Still, my mom just said, ‘You’re leaving.’”

So a reluctant Kristin – minus any money, housing, or options – tried rehab again.

That was Sept. 2, 2005. She hasn’t had a drink since.

Alcohol is as deadly as ever.

Excessive alcohol use claims nearly 180,000 American lives a year, placing it among the nation’s leading killers.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and stories like Kristin’s illustrate the importance of continuing the collective fight to control alcohol-use disorder.

According to the National Institutes of Health, excessive alcohol use claims nearly 180,000 American lives a year, placing it among the nation’s leading killers. In Pennsylvania alone, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the annual death count soared to more than 6,600 by 2021. That outpaces drug overdoses.

The cost extends to America’s economy. According to the CDC, excessive alcohol use delivers a $9.5 billion annual hit due to healthcare and criminal-justice costs and lost productivity.

success with alcohol recovery

Don’t Do It Alone

Dr. Jeremy Wigginton, Chief Medical Officer at Capital Blue Cross, says the first step along the path to alcoholism recovery is to seek support.

“Please don’t try to recover alone; you need support,” Dr. Wigginton said. “That can be in the form of rehabilitation programs, but also in the longer term can include ongoing counseling to unearth the root causes of your disease, and continued participation in support groups where you can surround yourself with the empathy of other recovering individuals. Please also consider self-help tools such as smartphone apps, books, hotlines, and meditation. Research increasingly reveals self-help’s connection to continued sobriety.”

Kristin echoed that advice, adding that those seeking recovery should also:

  • Find a sponsor. “Have at least one person you’re comfortable being completely honest with,” she said. “And that person has to understand alcoholism.”

  • Change people, places, and things. “I didn’t go into bars anymore. I didn’t call up my friends to go get wasted every night.”

Employers can assist by providing healthcare plans with access to behavioral health counseling that aids recovery. Capital Blue Cross offers a VirtualCare telehealth option and a behavioral health toolkit for certain employers, and Capital can connect you to a behavioral health professional online or by calling 866.322.1657.

Some companies, including Capital, offer employee assistance programs, which can make it easy for employees to access mental health professionals for any issue, including alcohol- and substance-use disorder.

“Just let people help you. Let individuals who have gone through this help you find your way."
— Kristin Varner

Alcohol recovery success

Now 45, Kristin proudly introduces herself these days as a married mother of four and “a woman in long-term recovery.”

She also can accurately introduce herself as Director of Dauphin County Drug and Alcohol Services, a member of Pennsylvania’s Advisory Council on Substance Use, and a recently appointed member of Gov. Josh Shapiro’s Behavioral Health Council.

Kristin credits one basic thing for her continuing recovery.

“Just let people help you,” she said. “Let individuals who have gone through this help you find your way. My way was failing, because I didn’t have all the answers. My way got me a bed in rehab. My way got me basically homeless.”