Monday, January 28, 2008

Celebrity meltdowns trigger rehab surge

SYDNEY'S drug and alcohol rehabilitation services have been swamped with calls from troubled addicts in the past few weeks, forcing one centre to close its books.

The spate of celebrities, such as the singer Amy Winehouse and the actress Lindsay Lohan, being admitted to rehabilitation centres, and a greater awareness of alcohol-related problems are behind the surge, experts say.

Odyssey House, which treats drug, alcohol and gambling addictions, was forced to turn away people for a few days last week because staff could not cope with the volume of inquiries.

"It has been extremely busy," said its chief executive, James Pitts. "We have had 42 admissions in the first three weeks of January where normally we would have about 30. We've also made more than 100 phone referrals when usually it would be about 75.

"January is always busier than December, but we have put this surge down to Odyssey House having had quite a bit of media exposure recently, and there has been a lot of attention on celebrities attending rehab centres."

The founder of Family Drug Support, Tony Trimingham, said he had received about 600 more calls than usual this month, with most people complaining of problems with alcohol.

"Ten years ago alcohol was the focus of only about 5 per cent of our calls - now it is at least 15 per cent," he said. "And Monday morning used to be our busiest shift because traditionally people call after a difficult weekend when the house is empty, but now we have many other shifts during the week which are just as busy."

Mr Trimingham, whose son Damien died from a heroin overdose, said there was evidence that more heroin was on the streets than there had been in years, and "stimulants continue to be bubbling away problematically". But most young people were presenting with alcohol addiction, he said.

The chief executive officer of South Pacific Private rehabilitation centre, Lynne Fishwick, said her staff had experienced a 50 per cent increase in inquiries in the past few weeks.

"By mid-January we had as many inquiries as we would usually receive in a full month," she said. "On Monday, January 14, which was the day most people went back to work, we were inundated with calls … and the bulk of the inquiries related to alcohol abuse and people whose lives have become unmanageable."

A spokesman for Alcoholics Anonymous said although statistics were not collected on the number of people attending meetings, the service's website had experienced an "astronomical increase" in the number of hits in the past 12 months.

A counsellor with Drug and Alcohol Research and Training, Paul Dillon, said many people now felt less cautious about seeking help because alcohol addiction were no longer seen as a taboo subject.

"The media has started reporting alcohol issues in the past few years and we have had an incredible 12 months with celebrities from film, television and sport getting help," Mr Dillon said. "Alcohol is now getting a tremendous amount of attention and that's helped a lot of rehab centres get their message out there. We are on the crest of a wave with this and it's a good thing."

source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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