Alcohol Abuse

Denial on the street: “But officer, I slowed way down!”

There's an old cop joke about the guy who rolled through a stop sign, then complained to the officer who stopped him, “Hey, I slowed way down, what's the difference?” Supposedly the officer says to the guy, “OK, fine. I’m going to take this flashlight and hit you on the head. When you want me to slow down, say ‘Slow down!’, and when you want me to stop, say ‘Stop!’”

I answer a couple of dozen emails and blog comments a week, dealing with various aspects of addiction and recovery. Every now and then it becomes clear that someone wants me to cosign a desire to experiment with using again. Most often it’s folks who want to know if I think it would be OK for them to have a glass of wine at dinner occasionally, or folks who have stopped using some drugs but want to go on using another (usually marijuana). So I think it’s time to write a few words about this particular form of denial.

Of course it’s denial! Here’s someone who has had enough problems in their life from using alcohol or other drugs that they have quit, or are trying to. In most cases it is safe to assume it hasn't been the easiest thing that they’ve ever done. Presumably they went through that for a reason. Yet they come to a website that is obviously about encouraging recovery, and inquire if I think it’s OK for them to mess around with their recovery.

Sure, it’s OK, because there’s no recovery involved. If we aren't convinced that we need to remain clean and concentrate on learning to live in such a way that our desire to use is minimized and hopefully eliminated, then we aren't in recovery — whether or not we’re clean. It’s that simple. No such thing as partial pregnancy, and no such thing as being partially in recovery. It’s quite possible that we don’t need to be in recovery. But, if that’s the case, why did we come to the site?

If you think you have a problem, do whatever you can to solve it. Don’t mess around. If you don’t think you have a problem, then live it up. Eventually things will become clear, one way or another.

But don't tell this old cop that you want to slow down.

Parent, Sibling Military Deployment Raises Drug Abuse Risk in Teens

Study results showed that youth whose parents or siblings were deployed were at 14 percent higher risk of abusing drugs than other people. Researchers found that military deployment of parents or siblings increased both recent and lifetime use of drugs, but not smoking.


After Treatment, Veterans Fare Better Than Civilian Alcohol Abusers

ScienceDaily (Oct. 29, 2012) — Male military veterans with a history of heavy alcohol use are more likely to seek treatment, later report better overall health and less depression than their civilian counterparts, according to new research…

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Substance Abuse Treatment Cost Benefits — The Best Health Deal Around

In these last weeks leading up to the presidential election, health care and surrounding issues will be on everyone's mind. It is an ideal time to revisit the issue of substance abuse treatment cost benefits.

Roughly 9 to 10% of the population meet the definition “substance dependent.” These numbers represent between 31.5 to 35 million people. In any given year, roughly 16% of Americans who are classified as substance dependent or abusers actually get treatment.

Nationwide, between 8.3 and 8.5% of adults suffer from serious mental illness, and substance abuse itself can lead to psychological disorders. Adults who use illicit drugs or alcohol are more than twice as likely to have serious mental illness than non-users. Many victims find that using drugs blunts the effects of their other disorders, and/or makes them more manageable. When those things are combined with the addictive qualities of the drugs, the combination can lead to situations ranging from homelessness to psychotic breaks and violence.

There is no denying that substance addiction is chronic (it does not improve on its own), progressive (always getting worse, never better, over time), and relapsing (users tend to return to alcohol and drugs after abstinence unless their recovery is well-supported).

Untreated addicts devastate families, communities and themselves. The cost to society in dollars includes rising health costs over and above those of our inefficient healthcare system, reduced productivity of workers, absenteeism, theft, destruction of property, higher law enforcement costs, costs related to traffic crashes, and the expense of incarcerating people who could be given preventive treatment at far less overall expense. Intoxication impacts the health of users and the people around them, and often facilitates transmission of infectious diseases such as hepatitis and HIV.

According to government studies, prevention efforts are often successful in lowering rates of substance abuse in some parts of the population — generally the more educated portions — but it remains a pervasive problem among other segments. It has also been shown that treatment is a highly cost-effective way to break the cycle, using programs that combine assessment, matching of treatment to the patient, comprehensive services adapted to the individuals (including social services when needed) and programs of relapse prevention and accountability.

Treatment does work, but it is not a universal answer. Some cases, especially those combined with mental disorders, involve chronic relapsers with whom intervention seems to work less well. It is likely that if detoxification, treatment and follow-up programs are made a priority, along with research into the best procedures, medications and neurobiology associated with addiction, these percentages will improve. Even so, detox and treatment are effective in enough cases to make the pursuit of universal availability a priority, strictly on a monetary and societal basis.

The last comprehensive study of the economic costs of alcohol and other drug abuse in the US, completed in 1999, showed the annual cost of substance abuse to be $510.8 billion.  That amounts to roughly $799 billion annually in 2012 dollars — far more than the cost of effective treatment for every abuser of alcohol and other drugs in the entire country.

Substance abuse treatment cost benefits are the best health care deal around, and for every year an addict stays clean, the benefits increase.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
Center for Substance Abuse Prevention

“Substance Abuse Prevention Dollars and
Cents: A Cost-Benefit Analysis”

What Are The Cost Benefits Of Addiction Treatment?

According to several conservative estimates, every $1 invested in addiction treatment programs yields a return of between $4 and $7 in reduced drug-related crime, criminal justice costs, and theft. When savings related to health care are included, total savings can exceed costs by a ratio of 12 to 1. Major savings to the individual and to society also stem from fewer interpersonal conflicts; greater workplace productivity; and fewer drug-related accidents, including overdoses and deaths.

Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Second Edition)

Addiction and Alcoholism Strike Across All Boundaries

According to an article I read recently, 56% of people in Scotland think that you can tell someone is an alcoholic or drug addict simply by looking at them.  It doesn't surprise me a bit.  One of the most difficult things to get across to folks — including alcoholics and other addicts — is the amazingly widespread nature of this disease of ours.  My own case in point: a month before I was forced into treatment by my employer, I was a prominent member of the community where I worked.  No one would ever have guessed that the guy they'd known for 13 years (third in command of their police department) was a raging drunk and seriously addicted to prescription drugs.

I was in treatment with three dozen or so other people, ranging from admitted prostitutes to a nurse with a graduate degree, to a superior court judge.  There is no way to tell an addict or alcoholic from any other guy on the street, until the disease is way, way advanced.  In retrospect, I know that I drank alcoholically for at least 20 years, and yet it was only a few months before I got sober that I had any idea of my “problem.”  My family suspected — some of them.  Others had trouble believing me when I told them myself, and yet my behavior was certainly out of character (and downright irresponsible) for years prior.

Alcoholism and addiction strike across all boundaries.  We all remember the problems of Rush Limbaugh, Britney Spears and the current crop of celebrities, because the media hounded them unmercifully. We don't know about the problems of the FPL supervisors, the dentists, the successful attorneys, the school teachers, Navy SEALs, politicians and many other professions, all of whom I've met in and around the 12-step groups over the years.  We don't know about most of the others, either, until they're so far gone in their disease that it's impossible not to notice.

Addiction is the invisible disease.  It worms its way in and destroys personalities, families, minds and bodies so successfully and so subtly that even when we notice odd things we think, “Oh, not that, why she's a____.”  So keep that in mind, and if a loved one or friend seems to be changing,  be alert for signs and symptoms similar to these.  Keep in mind that there may be reasonable explanations for single instances, but repeated incidents or clusters of symptoms may indicate problems.

  • Extreme mood changes: happy, sad, excited, anxious, etc.
  • Changes in sleep patterns: time spent sleeping, times of day or night, insomnia
  • Changes in energy – unpredictably tired or energetic
  • Inattention to personal hygiene
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Unusual behavior at certain times, and normal at other times
  • Pupils of the eyes smaller or larger than usual; eyes watery or bloodshot
  • Secretiveness
  • Defensiveness
  • Lying, especially about whereabouts, amount of alcohol consumed, other addiction-related matters
  • Stealing, or missing valuables that may have been sold or pawned
  • Financial unpredictability: ready cash sometimes, broke at others
  • Changes in social groups, new and unusual friends, odd cell-phone conversations
  • No longer interested in former pursuits; misses family occasions and duties
  • Repeated unexplained absences, or sudden trips “to the store” or other excuses for leaving home or work
  • Absences from appointments or frequent tardiness
  • Drug paraphernalia such as unusual pipes, cigarette papers, small weighing scales, etc.
  • “Stashes” of drugs, often in small plastic, paper or foil packages
  • Unusual insistence on privacy
  • Alcohol found in unusual places, laundry baskets, back of closet, etc.

Excessive Drinking Cost The U.S. $223.5 Billion In 2006

Excessive alcohol consumption is known to kill about 79,000 people in the United States each year, but a new study released by the CDC and The Lewin Group shows that it also has a huge impact on our wallets as well.