I really debated writing this article for several reasons. Discussing alcohol use can be a touchy subject. Let me start by saying – absolutely no judgment here! Honestly, no one is in a place that they should feel able to make judgments about others and others’ choices. With that, I’m going to jump on in!
Alcohol use is a prominent thing in rural areas among ag producers (farmers/ranchers) and also people working in Ag Business. Here are some of my observations after 50 years of growing up a farm kid and then working in the rural mental health arena. (Disclaimer – these are meant to be my observations, not results of a research study 😊 )
1. There are bars in every small town. And sometimes there’s a bar where there isn’t a town.
2. Many male farmers and ranchers’ social supports, social networks, and friend groups revolve around alcohol.
3. Many Ag Business work events, employee gatherings, and conferences have alcohol as a readily accessible perk.
4. Not everyone who drinks has a problem with drinking.
5. Not everyone who drinks gets drunk.
6. Not everyone who drinks is an abusive spouse or bad parent.
7. Many of the people I know who drink “a lot” have health problems.
8. Ag producers drink alcohol whether commodity prices and weather are good or bad.
9. Sometimes the farming operation is significantly impacted by a member of the team’s alcohol use.
10. Many farmers drive around gravel roads alone and drink.
11. Several of the farm kids I work with have difficulty with stress due to a family member’s drinking.
12. Drinking can cost a fair amount of money.
13. Farmers/Ranchers use alcohol to cope with and manage the stress of dealing with uncertainty (weather, prices, relationships, finances, etc).
So what is the point of sharing my observations? My hope is that it will start open and honest conversations around alcohol use in ag.
When I hear from people who are negatively impacted by someone’s drinking, what I hear are the consequences. Consequences are things like:
· I can’t talk to him/her after 5 pm
· Work isn’t getting done on the farm
· They don’t care about me or the kids
· I’m done taking care of them when they come home drunk
· Neighbors have had to pull them out of the ditch several times
· Our money is being spent on alcohol
· The people they drink with are more important than I am
What I don’t often hear is the “why” behind the drinking. The issue isn’t the alcohol itself. If that were the issue than all drinking would be a problem. The issue for those who drink “too much” or are “problematic drinkers” or those who have legal issues connected to drinking or those whose family/loved ones have been hurt by their drinking…. is the root cause. The WHY. These are my observations regarding the why:
1. Farmers are hurting from chronic stress.
2. The demands of the farm have overtaken the nurturing of relationships.
3. A spiritual connection, mission, and purpose in life are missing.
4. There is hopelessness.
5. There is chronic pain from years of physical work.
6. Farmers work in isolation.
7. Lots of people hate farmers and their farming practices.
8. The legacy of the continuation of the farm is a heavy formidable weight.
Are there answers? Sure! There are plenty of answers, treatment methods, ways to support people in recovery, etc. But the real work and the real answer is in meeting people where they are at. Withhold judgment. “Be kind to everyone you meet, for they are fighting a battle you know nothing about”.
Meet yourself where you are at. Take a solid honest look at what fuels you. And if you need to talk, please reach out. 218-280-7785.