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Getting Help for Substance Abuse

By Peter Fry
The first thing you need to know is that people have been dealing with alcohol and drug abuse for a long time, and millions have been helped over the years. Since Alcoholics Anonymous was founded in 1935, a great deal has been learned and the number of programs available have multiplied tremendously. Studies time and again have proven that treatment can indeed work miracles.
All substance abuse programs are based on one principle: a person cannot fight addiction alone. This usually means trained professionals, of course, but belonging to a community of people who are all struggling to recover from addiction greatly improves the chance of success. Alcoholics Anonymous and its spin-off Narcotics Anonymous consist simply of groups of recovering alcoholics or addicts who help each other remain sober and off drugs, one day at a time. In fact, the best way to begin the journey of recovery is to reach out to another person for help.
Therefore, the first step you should take in seeking help, whether for yourself or for another, is to talk with a professional. The Mental Health Association of New York City provides the 24-hour LifeNet Hotline (see end of the article) where a professional will refer you or the person you wish to help to a treatment agency. In Brooklyn alone there are nearly a hundred licensed programs, ranging from detoxification and in-hospital rehabilitation to long-term programs which address the causes of substance abuse.
Three types of long-term treatment are available, usually supplemented by self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous. Outpatient programs provide treatment through visits on a regular basis, using group and individual counseling, relapse prevention workshops and education. The frequency of visits depends on the person’s progress through treatment. Long-term residential treatment provides intensive services for up to a year or more for people most likely to benefit from living full-time in a facility with a structured environment. Methadone clinics help those addicted to heroin by replacing it with the legal drug methadone under medical supervision, so that they have a chance to live as functioning adults.
Remember, though, that substance abuse cannot be treated by itself. Each individual has other issues entwined with their abuse of drugs or alcohol, and which, therefore, must also be addressed. Some young people who started drugs in their teens or earlier never had the opportunity to mature into responsible adults or obtain a proper education, job skills or a work ethic. Other individuals have a job history and family, but started abusing drugs or alcohol later in life. Some persons are HIV-positive or have Hepatitis C, a disease commonly affecting addicts. Women are far more likely to have been sexually or physically abused than men, and often are the primary caregiver for their children. Some men and women have emotional or psychiatric disorders which interact with their substance abuse to make a bad situation worse. Gays and lesbians, the physically handicapped and other special populations also have issues particular to their situation.
A licensed program will thus develop a unique treatment plan for each person based on their particular situation. However, some programs specialize: in Brooklyn, a number serve only women, and a few allow women and their children to live together in a residential setting. Adolescents, with their own needs, have their own programs. Others specialize in those with emotional or psychiatric disorders.
Finally, a word about the criminal justice system. Brooklyn stands in the forefront of providing alternatives to incarceration, programs which the courts or the district attorney can require a person to attend if they feel he or she needs substance abuse treatment rather than jail time. People on probation or parole can also be required to attend these programs, and New York State Prisons and Rikers Island provide treatment services to some of their inmates. After all, many do not face up to their problem until they have been arrested or imprisoned, and thus their time under court or correctional supervision offers a unique opportunity to engage them in treatment.
While it is never too late for anyone to get help, success can never be guaranteed. A good treatment program can only provide a person with the skills to embrace a life of recovery from substance abuse. In the end, it will be up to him or her.
For help and referrals to a program, call 1-800-LifeNet (1-800-543-3638) in English; or 1-877-Ayudese (1-877-298-3373) in Spanish. To find a program near you, go to, or call 1-800-522-5353. For Alcoholics Anonymous meetings call 718-339-4777, and for Narcotics Anonymous call 212-929-6262 or 7117. For criminal justice clients, call the Serendipity I program for men (718-398-0096), or the Serendipity II program for women (718-802-0572).

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