My cousin Kim was up in July for my sister Lane's memorial. My smart, sweet, difficult sister who died at 56 from alcoholism. Kim and I were lamenting about Lane's death and Cory Monteith's. Sad, very sad. Cory's death touched a national chord and Lane's our personal one because we have a family riddled with addiction. I’ve also worked as an addiction counselor with clients struggling with alcohol and drug recovery for 25 years.
Tragedy strikes every day with thousands of other alcohol or drug related deaths a year. The National Council on Alcohol & Drug Addiction states 2.5 million a year die from alcohol. Three hundred and twenty thousand young people age 15-29 die each year worldwide.
Addiction is not just a deadly disease but an expensive one. It costs Americans more than $500 billion a year in lost earnings, accidents and crime. The state and federal governments spending $15 billion a year.* That's not including all the emotional devastation to families and friends.
The long-term sobriety failure rate is estimated at 70% according to Dr. Harold Urschel, author of Healing the Addicted Brain. I am very sad to say that statistic hasn’t budged much since 1985 when I was training as an addiction intern.
What has this addiction counselor learned in the last 25 years? That the old model of in-patient and out-patient treatment, for those that can afford it or who have insurance that will cover it, is a very small part of the solution. What happens after a 30 day stay is essential to long term recovery.
The standard treatment recommendations are basically: In-patient or out-patient program for 30 days, after release attend 90 AA or NA meetings in 90 days, get an AA/NA sponsor, don’t drink or use, keep stress to a minimum, get therapy if you can, work the 12 steps with a sponsor and consider that relapse is part of recovery. My sister went through 3 treatment programs and was sober 5 years at one point.
The new standard of care needs to include longer stays at inpatient facilities or sober recovery homes depending on the length of the addiction, the substances used and family support. I recently had a long term heroin addict come to see me. I recommended a long-term (90 days – 6 months) sober living program because he’d already been through a 30-day treatment program. I also recommended he be on one of the anti-addiction medications such as Suboxone or Subutex to help prevent cravings and begin to repair the brain. If this young man follows these and the basic recommendations of his program he has a much better chance of staying sober.
We collectively need to do a better job treating alcohol and drug addiction. We took smoking addiction from 50% of the male population in the 50s to only 20% today. We did that with early childhood prevention and education, Public Service Announcements, warning labels, and smoking cessation programs funded by the Federal Government and physicans talking to their patients. We can do better with addiction treatment and we must!
(*Source: article: Healing the Addicted Brain from Advances in Addiction & Recovery – Official Publication of NAADAC- Summer 2013 Vol 1, No 2, Intentional JOY: How to Turn Stress, Fear & Addiction into Freedom