Monday, September 24, 2007

Substance addiction — a beatable scourge

Abusing alcohol and other drugs gives four choices for the addict: jails, institutions, death or recovery.

Addiction is a chronic disease and recovery is possible. September is designated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as Recovery Month.

Throughout the month, people across the United States, Nevada and in Elko are celebrating recovery from alcohol and other drug abuse. National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery Month recognizes the accomplishments of people in recovery, the contributions of treatment providers, and advances in substance abuse treatment. This year’s theme, “Saving Lives, Saving Dollars,” highlights the enormous benefits recovery offers to individuals, loved ones and society.

Addiction to alcohol or drugs is a primary disease of the brain. Prolonged alcohol and/or drug abuse produces a change in brain chemistry and function that often leads to compulsive use. Once substance use becomes compulsive, the individual almost always needs support and treatment to become clean and sober.

Substance abuse is both psychological and physical and a sustained recovery requires a continuum of treatment as well as an effective recovery support system once abstinence is achieved. Due to the physical changes in the brain, substance addiction to alcohol and/or drugs is diagnosed as a primary disease, like other chronic diseases such as asthma, diabetes or high blood pressure.

“Alcohol and drug addiction is treatable,” says Dorothy North, chief executive officer of Vitality Unlimited, “and help is available for those suffering from the disease.”

North should know. She has worked in the field of substance abuse treatment since 1974. Her expertise includes counseling, administration, treatment of criminal justice system offenders, and designing and developing successful treatment programs in California and Nevada. She is a nationally certified Level II addiction counselor, Nevada licensed alcohol and drug counselor, certified employee aassistance professional, certified professional consultant to management, substance abuse treatment professional, and certified program aadministrator.

Under her leadership since 1978, Vitality Unlimited has expanded services and now offers several treatment options, including intensive residential treatment programs in Elko for adults and adolescents. They also operate a residential treatment for adolescents in Washoe County. Outpatient counseling services are available in Elko, Battle Mountain, Winnemucca and Reno.

Nevada’s youth

Substance abuse and dependency among Nevada residents presents a problem. The trend among Nevada youth, in particular, is disturbing. Adolescents are starting to use alcohol, tobacco and substances of abuse at increasingly younger ages. Young adults who are just beginning to take on more mature responsibilities in Nevada communities are more likely than others to drink heavily, smoke cigarettes and use substances of abuse.

Why is this so disturbing? Because young people who report first using alcohol before age 15 are five times more likely to report past year alcohol dependence or abuse as adults than persons who first used at age 21 or older. This conclusion came from a special analysis of the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health published by SAMHSA.

Worse yet, it is not just the young adults who are abusing alcohol. Binge drinking, identified as drinking five or more drinks on an occasion, has been traditionally higher in Nevada than the national average. The 2005 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey estimates that 17.6 percent of adult Nevadans participated in binge drinking during the past 30 days compared to the national average of 14.4 percent. Additionally, 7.4 percent of Nevada adults indicated heavy drinking in the past 30 days compared to the national average of 4.9 percent. Heavy drinking is defined as adult men having more than two drinks per day and adult women having more than one drink per day.

All this data can be boiled down to one statistic. According to the Nevada Substance Abuse Prevention and Treatment Agency, in 2006 there were 207,071 people in the state of Nevada suffering from substance use disorders.

Criminal connection

Drugs are directly related to crimes because they are illegal. Information from the “2004 Nevada Statewide Strategy for Drug Control, Violence Prevention and System Improvement,” published by the Nevada Department of Public Safety, Office of Criminal Justice Assistance indicates that during the 2005 calendar year, 10,608 adults were arrested for crimes in Nevada, and 15,744 were arrested for alcohol related crimes. Trends over the past four years indicate that drug and alcohol related crimes are on the rise in the state.

In addition to their relationship with crime, drug and alcohol addiction are also related to irresponsible sexual behavior, teen pregnancies, injuries, suicide attempts, HIV infections, school drop outs, fetal alcohol syndrome, gang affiliations, homicides and death. Let’s not forget to take into account the associated health care costs of drinking and drugging.

In the State of Nevada Department of Public Safety 2006 Annual Report, Sandra Mazy, administrator of the Department of Public Safety, Office of Criminal Justice Assistance, wrote in the executive summary: “While the full extent of substance abuse and crime can only be estimated, statistics reveal the crime and drug or alcohol problems in Nevada are rampant. Nevada is the nation’s fastest growing state and with those rapid changes come struggles with crime and other problems. They negatively impact our public health, social services, criminal justice system, work productivity and tourism.”

Educating yourself and others about treatment options can ensure the health and well-being of Nevada residents. One obvious solution for Nevada is to identify high risk and substance using individuals before they progress to abuse and dependence. This will reduce future chronic alcohol and drug abuse cases and can greatly reduce the fiscal impact on the criminal justice system, health care system, and drug abuse treatment programs. Early identification and intervention and referral for substance abuse can also reduce the tremendous psychological and financial burden on the individual, family and community.

“We owe it to ourselves, our families, friends and the community to support treatment and recovery,” North says. “The time has come to remove the moral stigma from addiction.”

source: Elko Daily Free Press
By JUDY ANDRESON — Correspondent

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