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Recognizing and Treating Drug and Alcohol Addiction

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Given the widespread commonality of the problem, treatment for drug addiction is not especially scarce, and this many facilities are eager to point out. The Addiction Studies Program, for example, notes, "For many drug addicts finding help is not the problem. Getting to the point where they want help is."

And indeed, virtually every counselor and psychologist will concur with the notion that as good as available addiction treatment programs may be, they are futile if an addict is still controlled by his or her disease or continues to believe that he or she can live and function while continuing to abuse drugs. The nation's airwaves are certainly not without their unfortunate history littered with the addiction-related downfalls of countless public figures who succumbed to their own personal failings. More common, however, are attempts by addicts to cover up their substance abuse; some develop such seamless and expert methods of feigning "normalcy" that when their secrets do become known, they come as surprises to even those closest to them.

"You can go for years and be a functioning alcoholic," says Leisa Cole, director of the intensive outpatient program for substance abuse and certified addiction counselor at Mountain View Hospital in Gadsden, Alabama. "With marijuana you can go a long time without anything (bad) happening. I have clients who have gone for years when their families didn't know they were using. With coke and crystal meth, you bottom out much quicker."

Drug addiction rarely occurs without the attendant issues of depression and emotional or psychic pain. Indeed, the prevalence of drug and alcohol abuse among combat veterans and others previously engaged in high-stress and violent environments is common knowledge. Left untreated, drug abuse can lead to a variety of other outcomes — homelessness, suicide, and death by overdosing being the most common.

Many healthcare providers recognize this common link between drug use and mental afflictions and offer programs which can help alleviate the severity of the condition. They also have set in place a plethora of hotlines and a network of clinics and rehab facilities which can help initiate recovery.

It is important to recognize, however, that a six-week (or even six-month) stay in rehab does not equal recovery. It is but the first step, and relapses are not only common but are to be expected.

Notes Herbert Kleber, director of the Division on Substance Abuse for the College of Physicians and Surgeons and the New York State Psychiatric Institute, "With alcoholics, if you have two years of abstinence, you have a 50% chance of remaining so for five years. If you are abstinent for five years, you have a 75% chance of remaining abstinent for 10 years or more."

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