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Addiction advocates say liquor stores staying open fights a different health emergency

liquor (Credit: KFOX14/CBS4)
liquor (Credit: KFOX14/CBS4)
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Two days into the City of El Paso’s “Stay Home, Work Safe” order, the only businesses that are open are those that have been labeled “essential”, including liquor stores.

Some El Pasoans said they didn’t understand the decision to keep liquor stores open, but those recovering from alcohol addiction said the alternative would be far worse.

On Wednesday, the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order went into effect, as a measure to fight the spread of COVID-19.

The order encourages El Pasoans to remain indoors and also shut down local businesses not considered “essential”.

One of the stores on the list of essential businesses raised some eyebrows.

The City of El Paso’s COVID-19 hotline said liquor stores are essential because they also sell non-alcoholic beverages like water.

But those who have experienced alcohol addiction say it’s actually the other way around.

“I’m an addict in long term recovery,” said William Thomas, the clinical director at Trinity Homeward Bound. “I’ve actually been sober from multiple drugs for about 14 to 15 years.”

Thomas is a counselor at Trinity Homeward Bound, a local drug rehabilitation center.

According to Thomas, if people suffering from severe alcoholism were cut off from buying liquor, they’d be at risk for more than just a hangover; as unlike heroin or cocaine, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.

“Your body is required and lives off that alcohol, or drugs to be able to feel normal,” said Thomas. “They can die.”

Thomas’s clinic offers monitored detox services where people can go through the withdrawal process safely.

But without access to alcohol, Thomas said many people with alcoholism would be forced into the hospital system, taking up space when hospital beds are needed now more than ever.

“At that point there’s going to be choices,” said Thomas. “Do we take care of the alcoholics, or do we take care of COVID-19?”

While he hopes liquor stores remain open for those who are struggling right now, Thomas said he wants people to view overcoming addiction as a marathon, not a sprint.

“I always tell the patients, if you keep winning at the end of the day, and you don’t drink on a day by day basis, you will end up winning that war,” said Thomas.

The Stay Home, Work Safe order will remain in effect indefinitely.

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