Compared to national averages, North Dakota ranks well on several health indicators, with the exception of one: excessive alcohol use.

Reports show the pandemic has only exacerbated that problem, along with several other behavioral health issues nationally and in the state

“Alcohol use has been historically really kind of a high priority for us in looking at reducing binge drinking,” said Laura Anderson, the North Dakota Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Health Division Assistant Director.

In 2015, the state ranked first nationally for the prevalence of excessive drinking. That problem has been brought to the forefront during the pandemic.

“Disasters can lead to an increase in mental illness and substance use disorders,” Anderson said.

According to a June CDC report, 40 percent of U.S. adults reported struggling with mental health or substance abuse. Another study found that for women, there was a 41 percent increase in binge drinking from 2019. But behavioral health problems go beyond drinking — they include mental health issues and addiction, too.

“The pandemic has revealed all of the cracks in our systems, and it’s exasperating all types of issues, and we see that especially with behavioral health problems,” said Will Thompson, a District 22 House candidate.

Some legislative candidates spoke at a Democratic-NPL press conference Thursday, calling for the upcoming legislative session to pass greater funding for services and increase access to addiction counselors.

“We’re not going to fix everything in one legislative session, but we do have to change the way we think about behavioral health, the way we treat it and the way we fund it,” said Jackie Hoffarth, a District 18 House candidate.

For those in need of support, Anderson says there is a phone number you can call: 701-223-1510. That hotline is part of Project Renew, a partnership between the North Dakota Department of Human Services and Lutheran Social Services.