Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, and Mental Health

Tab Ballis LCSW, CCAS

Health care professionals have long recognized that chemical dependency is a disease that has a profound effect on the mind, body, and spirit of the addicted individual. Treatment options have become more sophisticated since the groundbreaking efforts of Alcoholics Anonymous in the 1930s with many medical, behavioral, and alternative health choices currently available. Unfortunately, some common misconceptions, and the ever-present denial of addicted individuals and their families, prevent far too many from accessing appropriate treatment. Many who suffer from chemical dependency refuse help, because they view their problem as a personal weakness, a moral sin, or even a “family tradition”. Viewing addictive illness as anything other than a disease, trivializing or demonizing it, only adds to the difficulty of connecting people with recovery resources.

Treatment is more likely to be effective when it is offered in the earlier stages of addictive illness, before personal and family resources have been exhausted. Early intervention requires an understanding of risk factors, which may complicate the diagnosis and treatment of chemical dependency; these include genetic and environmental conditions, which must be assessed by a trained professional.

Genetic predisposition has been clinically proven to increase the risk for addictive illness. While ten percent of the American population is alcoholic, an individual with an alcoholic parent has a fifty percent probability for developing the disease, themselves. This suggests a strong genetic component to the illness, which may be avoided through education and prevention strategies. Environmental risk factors include family and cultural history, stress and trauma, other mental illness, and the relative availability of a particular mood altering substance. In some cases, the substance, itself, is so potently addictive, that a relatively naïve encounter with it initiates the cycle of addiction. Individuals with multiple risk factors are, obviously, extremely vulnerable to the perils of chemical dependency, if they experiment with mood altering substances. Unfortunately, the great majority of young people in our society have experimented with alcohol and other drugs, and those with significant risk are well on their way to developing chemical dependency.

Consequences of addiction may be concealed by the denial of the individual, and the enabling, or cover-up of his or her significant others. Eventually, though, the problems associated with substance abuse become painfully evident, and the necessity of treatment reaches a crucial phase. The chemically dependent individual experiences a predictable series of problems, affecting their legal, financial, medical, social, and psychological well-being. Ironically, it is at this critical stage of their illness, that they may be the most receptive to treatment, if it is offered. Employers, co-workers, friends, and family, with effective information and preparation, may succeed in motivating an addicted individual to treatment, by presenting them with the consequences of their chemical dependency. This type of intervention can be particularly successful when it is organized by a clinical addictions specialist, and coordinated with the appropriate recovery resources for that individual. Most communities have a range of services available for substance abuse treatment, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, outpatient counseling, intensive outpatient programs, inpatient treatment centers, and halfway houses.

While chemical dependency is a progressive, and often relapsing disease, the prognosis for long term recovery is very good, for individuals and families that acquire accurate information and appropriate levels of treatment.

Tab Ballis is a licensed clinical substance abuse counselor in private practice in Wilmington.

For more information on alcoholism and drug addiction:

Alcoholics Anonymous in the Cape Fear Area
Wilmington Intergroup Office
5001 Wrightsville Avenue
Wilmington, N.C. 28403
24-hour Answering Service: 910-794-1840

Alcoholics Anonymous Wolrd Services Office
475 Riverside Drive 11th Floor
New York, NY 10115
Phone: 212-870-3400

Narcotics Anonymous World Service Office
P.O. Box 9999
Van Nuys, CA 91409
Phone: 818-773-9999

Dual Recovery Anonymous World Services Central Office
P.O. Box 8107
Prairie Village, KS 66208
Phone: 877-883-2332

National Clearinghouse on Alcohol and Drug Information
Phone: 800-729-6686

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