Friday, December 21, 2007

Holidays can be blue for LGBT people

Addictions to alcohol, drugs can spiral out of
control as year ends

The holidays often bring joy, but they also can bring misery for people whose addictions spiral out of control during the final days of the year, according to alcohol and drug addiction counselors.

That can be especially true for gay and lesbian people, said Franky Smith, director of the Pride Institute of Texas at Millwood Hospital in Arlington, a 10-year-old drug and alcohol rehabilitation center serving the LGBT community.
“Sometimes the holidays can exacerbate an addiction because of shame or homophobia,” Smith said. “The LGBT person is often ostracized by their families of origin. Because of that the depression sets in or the addiction takes a stronger hold.”
Smith said there usually is an increase in the number of people seeking treatment for addictions after the first of the year because alcoholics and drug addicts become more aware of their substance abuse.

Sometimes, the addicts come to realize they have a problem because family members or friends notice it, or they may come to the realization on their own, he said.

“They are around their support systems,” Smith said. “Their families start noticing things or if they are not with their families of origin, their families of choice might bring things to their attention. Then the realization is, ‘Maybe, I do have a problem.’”

Randy Martin, the former director of the Pride Institute who now has a private counseling practice in Dallas, said he sees an increase in his private practice after the first of the year. People who are having trouble dealing with new issues or even old ones that arise during the holidays seek help when the holidays are over, he said.

Frequently, those problems have involved excessive drinking or drug abuse, Martin said.
“People who have patterns of compulsive drinking … often engage in even more excessive drinking during the holidays as a way of dealing with the depression and anxiety that is going on,” Martin said. “Whether they call it a New Year’s resolution or just a general cry for help, a lot of new appointments surface in January or early February.”

Martin said he frequently refers people who are having problems with alcohol or other substance abuse to the Pride Institute.

Smith said that most of the people admitted to the Pride Institute come in on a voluntary basis.

“That means that their physician or psychologist has said, ‘This problem is serious enough that you need help,’ or they have realized it on their own,” he said.
Treatment in rehabilitation centers is based on the 12-step programs of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. It also includes individual and group cognitive behavioral therapy.

The therapy begins after the patient goes through detoxification. That process often involves medical care so the patient can cope emotionally and physically with the withdrawal symptoms.

Smith said many people are often not aware how dangerous withdrawal from alcohol can be. Alcohol is legal and easily acquired so people are unaware of its powerful effect on the brain and other parts of the body, he noted.

The length of time that is required for detoxification varies from person to person, Smith said. People usually being to feel better after three or four days, unless they are addicted to heroin or some other opiate, he said.

“It depends on how long a person has been drinking and how much they have been drinking over a period of time,” Smith said.

Smith said there is a major advantage to a gay and lesbian person seeking help from the Pride Institute, which has the capacity for 10 patients at a time, as opposed to other rehabilitation centers.

“Being gay is not an issue at Pride,” Smith said. “At another program that is geared for the general population, some who is gay may not feel as free to discuss their issues.”
Smith said honesty is essential to the recovery process, and gay and lesbian people sometimes cannot bring themselves to discuss their sexual orientation with straight people.

Martin called the Pride Institute a “gold mine” in terms of specialty services to Dallas’ LGBT community.

“So many people are still not aware of what is right in our back yard,” Martin said. “Often times they wind up going into mental health facilities for help not realizing there is that specialized treatment there.”

Martin said he hears stories from patients who complain about stays in rehabilitation centers that were not gay friendly and not sensitive to LGBT issues.

“And just a few miles down the road is this hospital that has that specialty program,” Martin said. “I’m very confident of the program. They try to provide the most sensitive, affirming environment for the LGBT patient so I pretty regularly refer there.”

The length of treatment at the Pride Institute depends on the individual. Some stay a week or less, while others remain in treatment for as long as 28 days.

Involvement in treatment is completely anonymous to the outside world, Smith said.
“Our information is very guarded here,” Smith said. “I can’t even tell your partner if you haven’t put them on your contact list. It’s the same for employers.”

The first step is an evaluation to determine if the patient needs treatment.
“I would encourage someone who even thinks they have a problem to please have it checked out,” Smith said. “If you are having a hard time coping with life on life’s terms, call us.”

Generally, the treatment program requires that patients have insurance benefits, Medicare or the cash to fund their treatment.

But the rehabilitation center also makes referrals to public health facilities for anyone who does not have resources, Smith said.

“They should give us a call because we can get them somewhere they can get some help if we can’t help them,” Smith said.

By David Webb Staff Writer
Last Updated: Dec 21st, 2007 - 11:44:02

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