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Think before you drink

Alcoholics aren’t easy to pick out in a crowd.

The person next to you in the checkout line at Walmart may be an alcoholic. So may the person who works next to you at the office, or sits next to you in church. The person who teaches your child, works on your car, or cuts your hair may be an alcoholic. And many of them may not even know it.

April is Alcohol Awareness Month, and it’s a good time for people who drink to consider whether they may be at risk for alcoholism.

Alcohol does not discriminate on race, sex, education, social status or religious creed. Since alcohol is readily available and legal (unless one is under-age, drives while intoxicated or violates public drunk laws), it’s often the socially acceptable drug of choice, said Levi Keehler, prevention program manager for the Cherokee Nation and treatment coordinator for Access to Recovery.

ATR, which began accepting clients in March 2008, has helped more than 1,700 clients so far.

“Alcohol is the most common substance we see people coming in for treatment of,” Keehler said. “Alcohol in and of itself is kind of a sneaky drug. You see people go into the cycle of addiction much faster with ‘harder’ drugs. Sometimes it takes years before somebody starts realizing alcohol is what’s doing it.”

“It” could be problems on the job, problems relating to family members and others, general life problems. The first of the 12 steps in the Alcoholics Anonymous program states, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable.” This unmanageability is often what causes people to seek help.

The reason for seeking help may come from within, at the suggestion of a spouse or family member, because of pressure from authority figures at work, or most unavoidably, by a court order. Help can include anything from attending AA meetings, counseling, going away for treatment or even forced incarceration.

Keehler pointed to these questions, provided by the National Institute on alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, suggested for people who wonder if they may be drinking too much. They require a simple yes or no answer.

  • Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?
  • Does your drinking ever make you late for work?
  • Does your drinking worry your family?
  • Do you ever drink after telling yourself you won’t?
  • Do you ever forget what you did while you were drinking?
  • Do you get headaches or have a hangover after you’ve been drinking?

If the answer to one or more questions is “yes,” you may have a problem with drinking.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 61 percent of American adults drank alcohol in 2006, with 33 percent having five or more drinks on at least one day that year.

Alcoholism statistics are grim. The center reported the number of alcohol related deaths in 2006, excluding accidents and homicides, as 21, 634. There were 12,938 alcoholic liver disease deaths that year.

Over the years, many people have sought help through Alcoholics Anonymous, the original 12-step group. Bill W., a businessman who struggled with alcoholism for years, and Dr. Bob S. a physician who had done the same, developed the principles of AA with the concept that they could maintain their sobriety by helping others to achieve it and likewise stay sober. The original group in Akron, Ohio, soon spread through the United States and the world. Today, traveling AA members can attend meetings practically anywhere, even if they don’t know the language the meeting is being conducted in.

Meetings last an hour and attract people of a variety of ages and backgrounds. They open with a few readings, followed by discussion of issues concerning alcoholism or studies of program literature. Many people have found recovery through discussing their problems with people who have lived with the same issues, and have overcome those barriers.

People attending the meetings state their first names only and comment – or not, as they wish. Attendees include newcomers, who often are described as “the most important person here”; people with a year or more of recovery; and veterans with 20 or more years of sobriety.

One longtime member, who wished to remain anonymous, said Wednesday he still attends two or three meetings a week and enjoys the camaraderie. He’s happy to see people succeed, keep coming to meetings, and improve their lives. He also appreciates the spiritual aspects of the program.

“After 25 years, I can tell you that it works,” he said.

The AA General Service Office for the United States and Canada estimated that in 2007, membership included 53,665 groups in the United States with 1,213,269 members; 4,874 groups in Canada with 95,443 members; and 53,590 groups overseas with 616,899 members. There are 2,432 groups in correctional facilities, with 63,357 members. Since AA is an anonymous program, it keeps no membership lists and collects no dues, so the organization states exact figures are difficult to obtain.

Today, many AA groups, treatment programs and outpatient programs are available. It’s a far cry from the days when Bill W. and Dr. Bob resorted to calling hospitals or inquiring with clergymen to find suitable “prospects” for the program.

The Bill Willis Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Center provides treatment, counseling and referrals locally.

The ATR program, operated through Cherokee Nation, serves people with a CDIB in 22 counties. Keehler said the program serves Cherokee, Creek and Osage tribal members, with its territory including all of the Tulsa area. ATR provides a holistic approach to recovery, and allows the consumer to determine what treatment providers are best, after undergoing an assessment.

The program offers not only access to treatment and housing, but assists people in recovery with such basic needs as housing and transportation, even in regaining their driver’s licenses.

People with alcohol or drug problems can contact the ATR office in the strip shopping center behind Reasor’s on Mahaney Street. They will receive a questionnaire to fill out, and an appointment for an assessment to be conducted, usually within two weeks. The results of that assessment will determine what services they need. Then, the client selects the provider or providers of these services. ATR currently contracts with 123 providers.

“We will reimburse approved providers for everything from transport to drug-free social activities to traditional treatments,” Keehler said. “The beautiful part about ATR is the client gets full choice. They get to choose the provider they feel most confident with. That empowers them and increases the likelihood of long-term sobriety.”

People who have quit using alcohol or drugs also may achieve help through ATR as needed, he said.

“The ATR program is not specific to treatment. People who are in recovery who are at high risk to relapse can come to ATR, before they have begun to slip,” he said.

If a person starts using the substance again, ATR can help him curb that before it develops into greater problems.

“The goal is to fill in the gaps that we have seen individuals in recovery fall through. We want to fill in the gaps so we can see more length of sobriety, more quality of living,” Keehler said. “One of the biggest cries for help right now is from people who are trying to get back on their feet. If you don’t have your basic needs met, you’re going to be stressed,”

And that stress can lead to a return to drinking or drugs.

Keehler would like to hear from landlords with vacant rental property. ATR can fund rental housing for people in recovery. He said follow-up care is a vital aspect of recovery, and the program tries to fill its clients’ needs so they may resume a sober and better life.

source: Tahlequah Daily Press

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