How the economic recession is forcing many to hit the bottle

A shocking confession from a school teacher about the hold alcohol had on her life.

In these tough economic times, experts say an alarming number of people turn to alcohol to numb their pain.

An estimated half million people here in Arizona suffer from alcoholism and when a recession hits experts tell us fewer people reach out for help.

We begin with a woman who sought comfort in alcohol. Vodka was her drink of choice. She thought she had it under control that is until she lost everything.

“I do believe I was born an alcoholic,” Marci Johnson said. “I drank primarily to function.”

The numbers of people battling the bottle here in Arizona alone are staggering and it is estimated that every year, more than 400,000 people with an alcohol crisis fail to receive the alcohol rehabilitation that they need.

Experts say right now, in the throws of this recession an even more alarming number of people are scared to seek help.

“When the economy is doing as poorly as we are turning to the drugs because it does numb us out to the experience, okay I'm drunk, it is easier to have this feeling right now than for me to go back to my family and say okay I don't have enough money to pay our mortgage,” said Director of Outpatient Service at St. Luke’s Chip Coffey.

Coffey worries that people are suffering in the shadows and afraid of what will happen if they admit that they are addicted to alcohol.

“Addiction is a funny thing and most people don't understand addiction,” Ellie Schafer said.

Counseling alcoholics has been Ellie Schafer's life work. At 91 she still volunteers at St Luke’s trying to help people overcome addiction.

“People are using alcohol and drugs at much younger ages than in the 50s when I started working,” she said.

In the chapel a prayer book shows signs of these difficult times, one person writes "lord please let me find employment."

They come to church seeking strength, trying to find peace and when it happens, Schafer said it is remarkable.

“You see the change in women must faster as they are detoxing, the softness that happens in their features, you just can't imagine,” she said.

For Johnson, the school teacher who used to drink vodka in the classroom, the battle with the bottle left her with no job, no friends and failing health.

“I know today that I had a disease that affected my mind body and spirit and I had to deal with all of those in recovery,” Johnson said.

Today at 79 Johnson is a recovered alcoholic. She hopes her story is a warning to those who are fighting this disease.

Especially in these trying times, there are all those thousands of people who are quietly suffering.

The experts who worked with on this story say an alcoholic has to experience the serious consequences of their addiction, meaning they have to hit rock bottom before they can truly get better.