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Getting treatment when it all falls apart

Substance abuse has become a 21st century epidemic with one in four homes affected. While it may seem like a personal problem, citizens pay the price in law enforcement and court costs: domestic violence, divorce, and policing drunks on the road and dealers on school campuses. The statistics are sobering.

In 2008, Ottawa County alone had four alcohol-related crash deaths. In one year, the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office reported 206 car crashes involving alcohol, 54 injury crashes involving alcohol, and 686 suspected drunken driving arrests. In 2009, the Holland Police Department arrested 246 drunken drivers; 21 of the drivers were arrested at the scene of an accident.

At Holland Hospital’s emergency department, 507 admissions were alcohol related: domestic abuse incidents, drunken driving crashes, and alcohol withdrawals.

“Alcohol abuse is so far-reaching: falls, assaults, car accidents,” Dr. Doug Hoey said. “We see all of these things, and not all of those cases have alcohol in the final paperwork.”

Alcoholism’s smallest victims

“Almost every family member is directly or indirectly affected by it,” said Mark Bombara, a substance abuse counselor at Holland Hospital.

“Generally speaking, it’s a sign of deterioration of the family structure,” said Andy Page, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Holland.

When parents struggle with alcohol, their children often get the worst of it.

“It really hurts kids in terms of security, self esteem,” said Ralph Edgington, executive director of Ottawa Addictions Recovery. “Quite often the kids will feel that they’re causing the problem.”

And, there is the danger that history may repeat itself; as they grow older, children can mimic behavior they’ve observed in alcoholic parents.

In a home where alcohol contributes to domestic violence, there is a “major issue with safety for the kids involved,” said Holly Seymour, residential services manager for the Center for Women in Transition. “The two together can be very toxic.”

Research shows that women whose partners abused alcohol were 3.6 times more likely than other women to be assaulted by their partners.

“It definitely doesn’t happen all the time, but children exposed to violence can grow up to be abusers or victims themselves,” Seymour said. “Your home life is what you think is normal.”

According to the Marin Institute, in an estimated 45 percent of domestic abuse cases, men had been drinking.

“When you are a kid, if you see abuse, you think that’s how families are supposed to interact with each other,” Seymour said.

“Alcohol reduces people’s inhibitions, so maybe they’re emotionally abusive when they’re sober but when they’re under the influence, perhaps they become physically violent.”

According to one local treatment center specializing in alcoholism, Ottagan Addictions Recovery, 32,850 people are alcohol or drug dependent out of Ottawa and Allegan counties’ combined population of 365,000. OAR serves about 25,000 people per year, what director Edgington called “the tip of the iceberg.”

“The disease doesn’t go away”

Often alcoholism starts at a young age and coincides with some other, untreated disorder, Bombara said. A person with undiagnosed depression, anxiety or mental illness will self-medicate with alcohol. It’s called a co-occurring disorder.

If the “whole person” isn’t treated, the original causes of the alcohol problem can keep reigniting the drinking.

“Co-occurring disorder treatment is very, very necessary,” Bombara said. “It’s so overwhelming. It’s a physical addiction but it’s also an emotional addiction.”

In local Alcoholics Anonymous groups, alcohol abusers at different points in the recovery process help one another realize there’s always an alternative to drinking.

“It’s pretty difficult to keep living the same life if you know there’s something different and better,” said David, a recovering alcoholic in Holland who has been attending AA meetings for 28 years. David preferred not to give his last name. “AA is like planting a seed. Sometimes it takes awhile for it to germinate.”

Recovery in AA includes textbook study, writing in a daily reflection book and “looking at yourself, seeing where you’ve been at fault,” David said. “Making amends to people in your life, because sometimes those are some of the most difficult things to mend.”

The disease of alcoholism “doesn’t go away,” he added. “I continue to go to meetings because it’s really important for me in order to maintain my sobriety. Also, I’m uniquely useful in this world to help other people in that position. I can help when maybe no one else can.”

Court ordered intervention

David said many new AA members start coming to meetings because they’ve been ordered to by the courts after a drunken driving conviction.

Holland District Court Chief Judge Bradley Knoll and Judge Susan Jonas implemented a sobriety court several years ago to give drunken drivers an alternative to jail.

“At the outset, it involves AA meetings five times per week, mandatory counseling, daily sobriety testing, random drug testing and random home visits,” Knoll said.

Relapses happen, and the defendants know they can be sentenced to jail time if they don’t follow the program. But the idea, Knoll said, is to give those who are truly struggling with alcoholism or drug dependence a chance to change.

“We can throw them in jail, but then after they’ve served their jail time, they’re still thirsty,” he said. “They haven’t addressed the issues. A jail term might be a short-term solution, but it doesn’t provide a long-term solution.”

In 1982, after his freshman year of college, Frank Wilson was arrested for drunken driving. And for most of his young life, driving drunk, blacking out and lying to parents was the norm. “No question, I could’ve killed somebody,” said Wilson, who grew up in Holland.

After his DUI, Wilson’s parents took him to get help for alcoholism at the Holland Rescue Mission. “I just really began to see, it wasn’t anybody’s problem but Frank Wilson’s problem.”

He hasn’t had a drink since. As the mission’s food services director, Wilson counsels others struggling with alcoholism at the mission.

“I know a lot of alcoholics that, they can be told time and time again, but until they hit rock bottom, until they have nowhere else to go except sober, they do not get it.”

source: Holland Sentinel

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