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Alcohol Epidemic: The Other Drug Outbreak in America

Alcohol Epidemic: The Other Drug Outbreak in America

Author: Justin Mckibben

I came across an article the other day that asked a very interesting question- what if the media covered alcohol the way it does other drugs. To be clear, I’m not writing this to shame people who drink alcohol. This is all about perspective.

More recently the conversation about the drug epidemic in America has been focused on opioid abuse and addiction, of course with good reason. The rate at which opioid abuse, opioid overdoses and related deaths have risen immensely in the last few years. The alarming numbers prove that both prescription opioids and illicit opioid drugs are a very real threat. Thousands of people die every day, and experts see no sign that it will not get worse before it gets better.

And yet, similar statistics associated with alcohol are nothing short of staggering if you look at them the way we look at heroin or methamphetamine.

So, let us imagine for a moment a world where we treated alcohol like the drug it truly is. What if we treated drinkers like we do addicts?

Alcohol Drug Addiction

For decades a devastating and potentially fatal drug has wreaked havoc across the country, ending countless lives and altering countless others. This insidious substance can be found in pretty much every neighborhood in America. You can find it on almost every street corner, and the overwhelming majority of adults have consumed this substance at least once.

Alcohol has many aliases, include:

  • Beer
  • Liquor
  • Spirits
  • Booze
  • Drank
  • Giggle Water
  • Moonshine

The drug comes packaged in a long list of names, with a variety of mixes that can be more or less potent depending on the source. Some use massive labs to concoct their drinks, while others brew out of secret unregulated areas in their homes.

The Alcohol Epidemic

No matter where you go, there will be a prominent presence of alcohol users. According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH):

  • 86.4% of people 18 or older report to have drank this dangerous drug at some point in their life
  • 70.1% of people report to have consuming this substance in the last year
  • 56% of people admit to have taken the drug in the last month

Looking closer at the drug, we see that many users go from recreational consumption to excessive use. The NSDUH shows:

  • 7% report to heavy use in the past month
  • 26.9% of people 18 or older admit to binge drinking in the past month

As with most other drugs, this substance also leads to sometimes debilitating addiction, or alcohol use disorder (AUD). NSDUH reports:

  • 1 million Adults age 18 or older suffered from AUD in 2015
  • 8 million of them were men
  • 3 million were women
  • 623,000 adolescents age 12-17 years old had AUD

All 50 states in America have been hit hard by the alcohol epidemic at some point or another. One reason the outbreak of this drug has been so tragic is because in so many places it has become social acceptable for people to consume alcohol!

In fact, many have minimized the use of alcohol or even celebrated it! In several communities around the country there are all-out events where drug use is actually publicly promoted! Events like “Craft Beer Fest” or the infamous “Oktoberfest” have become hotbeds for excessive abuse of this incredibly hazardous substance. Young adults often talk about getting “wasted”, “tipsy” or “turnt” as slang for ingesting such high levels of the drug they are inebriated.

Alcohol Related Deaths

According to data collected by the federal government, alcohol is the second deadliest drug in America. If you combine:

  • Heroin- connected to almost 13,000 overdose deaths in 2015
  • Prescription opioids– 22,598 overdose deaths

You still have less than half of the deaths of alcohol. In fact, an estimated 88,000 people die from alcohol related causes every single year!

Because of binge drinking and other risk behaviors, mild to moderate alcohol overdose has almost become far too common. Beyond that, there are numerous ways this deadly drug has contributed to an inordinate number of deaths over hundreds of years! On a global scale, the alcohol drug is the leading risk factor in premature death and disability.

  • In 2012, 3.3 million deaths in the whole world were alcohol related
  • 2013, 45.8% of liver disease deaths for individuals 12 and older were alcohol related
  • In 2013, 47.9% of all cirrhosis deaths were alcohol related

The health effects of the alcohol epidemic are very real.

Alcohol Epidemic Hurts Others

It isn’t just the people who use this lethal drug that suffer from the adverse effects of the alcohol epidemic. Even the people are the users are often put in serious danger. For example, driving while under the influence of the alcoholic drug has been a very severe problem for a long time.

  • In 2014, over 31% of driving fatalities were alcohol related- 9,967 deaths

Also, public health officials from all over America have stood up to expose other terrible effects of alcohol use. Alcohol use also has a great deal of influence on:

  • Domestic abuse
  • Sexual assault

According to the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) 90% of acquaintance rape and sexual assault on college campuses involves alcohol use by the victim, the assailant or both.

  • Violent crime

To that point, in 2010 sources indicated that more than 4.6 million emergency room visits were alcohol related.

  • 40% of violent crime is alcohol related.
  • 37% of current convicted offenders in jails admit to being on alcohol during their arrest

The War on Alcohol?

So with such glaring instances of the impacts of alcohol use on Americans, and young people in particular, surely drug policy officials and politicians are aggressively pursuing legislation to engage in a full on War on Alcohol, like they have with the War on Drugs, right?

Well… not so much.

It may come as a shock, but U.S. federal and state officials seem to think banning alcohol is out of the question! Citing the past attempts at alcohol prohibition as a major failure that instigated higher crime rates, while also claiming the vital part alcohol production and sales play in the economy, lawmakers seem content with allowing the drug to remain in circulation.

Thankfully officials are still willing to provide emergency response services to individuals who have overdosed on alcohol or been injured in alcohol-related accidents. While city officials are fighting for the option to deny the overdose antidote Narcan to opioid users who overdose multiple times, none of these officials seem to believe alcohol related illness or drunk driving accidents should be ignored the same way.

Drunk driving in many areas on multiple occasions does constitute jail time, but it seems being in possession of one of the deadliest drugs in America still doesn’t come with a mandatory minimum sentence. The Alcohol epidemic seems to have avoided a lot of the stigma that other drugs are held to, yet experts insist more should be done to decrease the astonishing rates of alcohol abuse and addiction.

Alcohol may be legal, and it may be more mainstream than most drugs, the alcohol epidemic in this nation is still a very real threat. The fact it is legal and easily accessible makes the problem so much more serious. This article isn’t meant to demonize alcohol, but it is meant to point out the severity of alcohol use and the damage that comes with it. Maybe this kind of perspective can also diminish the stigma attached to other illicit addictions, if we are willing to acknowledge the similarities.

Alcohol is more dangerous than people give it credit, and alcohol addiction is incredibly dangerous.

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Movies Depicting Alcohol May Put Teens at Risk for Drinking Problems

Movies Depicting Alcohol May Put Teens at Risk for Drinking Problems

 By Cheryl Steinberg

The last thing I quit was cigarettes. And boy, that was hard. As some have said, it’s harder to kick a smoking addiction than an addiction to heroin and, after several attempts before finally doing it, I’d have to agree (being a former heroin addict, I can weigh in on this).

And, even though I’m pretty much ‘over’ cigarettes, there are times when I’m watching a movie and the actors are smoking and it just looks…so…damn…good. I admit it! I’m tempted!

When I think back to the times when I was actively using other drugs, watching TV or a movie in which the characters are doing drugs would always tempt me. And, without recovery in my life then, it was a matter of when – not if – that I’d get my hands on a drink or drug.

Well, there’s definitely something to that – a phenomenon in which seeing others, especially those on the silver screen – using just looks so good. And sexy.

A new study in the U.K. has found that the movie industry could be having a very real and serious impact on teen drinking habits.

Researchers concluded that the more they witness alcohol consumption in films, the more likely adolescents are to ty alcohol. As an aside: Over 70% of movies released in the U.K. over the past 20 years depicted alcohol abuse.

The study involved data from over 5,000 adolescents with an average age of 15 years. All of the teenaged participants are from a “Children of the 90s” study conducted in Bristol in the U.K. The findings were published in the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Movies Depicting Alcohol May Put Teens at Risk for Drinking Problems

Lead researcher Dr. Andrea Waylen, along with her research team, found that the teenagers with the most exposure to movie-use alcohol were 1.2 times more likely to have tried alcohol and were a whopping 1.7 times more likely to binge drink when compared to those who were least exposed. The first group of teens – the ones exposed to booze-on-film – was also twice as likely to have problems with alcohol in adulthood and they were 2.4 times more likely to drink weekly than those less exposed.

In the U.K. between 1989 and 2008, about 72% of the most popular box office movies depicted alcohol use, but only 6% of those were categorized as “adult only.” Waylen recommends that reviewing film-rating categories and giving alcohol ratings for all films could work to reduce the percentage of teen alcohol consumption.

Alcohol Issues and Sleep Problems

An entirely separate study conducted by Maria M. Wong, professor and director of experimental training in the department of psychology at Idaho State University, was published last February in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. The study also found that teen sleep issues could lead to problems with alcohol later in life. Wong’s study was impressive; looking at data from 6,504 adolescents—52% boys and 48% girls—that was collected at three intervals, 1994-95, 1996, and 2001-02.

Wong concluded that those with sleep difficulties in the 1994-95 wave had much higher instances of “alcohol-related interpersonal problems, binge drinking…driving under the influence, getting into a sexual situation one later regretted due to drinking … and drug-related problems at the second wave.”

In normal adults, having sleep problems increased their risk of alcohol use in the span of one year and, within 3.5 years, they were likely to also develop a drug problem. People who suffer with insomnia and who were currently receiving treatment for alcohol use disorder were also more likely to experience relapse.

If you suspect that your teen is struggling with alcohol or other drugs, there are signs to look for. It can be difficult to figure out whether a teen’s alcohol use is within normal limits as far as whether it’s social or experimentation. Many teens who drink might not consume alcohol on a daily basis, however, they tend to binge drink on the weekends. Binge drinking is a serious matter that can lead to health risks as well as risk for tolerance and dependence. Please call toll-free 1-800-951-6135 to speak with an Addiction Specialist today. We can talk to you about signs to be concerned about as well as resources and options.

Are the 12 Steps the Only Way?

Are the 12 Steps the Only Way?

By Cheryl Steinberg

As much as 90% of the drug and alcohol rehabs in America endorse the 12 Step approach to treatment and recovery and yet, research shows that there’s a better way: combining therapy and medication.

If you are a member of a 12 Step fellowship, you might know quite well the bias against the use of medications in recovery – and I’m not talking about narcotics. I mean things like antidepressants and medications designed to support abstinence, such as opioid blockers. The FDA has approved two different medications for use in the treatment of an alcohol use disorder.

So what are these FDA-approved medications and how effective are they?

The first medication is called acamprosate (brand name Campral) and it has been used for alcohol use disorder treatment since the 1980s in Europe; it was accepted by the FDA in 2004. The way Campral works is this: it stabilizes the initial depression as well as reducing cravings by quieting the feelings of being restless, irritability, and discontent that alcoholics experience when they first quit drinking. Acamprosate is meant to be taken daily for the first 12 months of abstinence.

The second medication is Naltrexone. Although Naltrexone is an opioid inhibitor, is has been FDA approved as a daily medication to be taken at a low dose for the treatment of alcohol abuse. Naltrexone is best if used as an emergency relapse drug. Alcoholics who take it prior to a relapse have reported significantly less negative impact of their relapse. For those who want to be abstinent, naltrexone works as a great emergency relapse drug in combination with acamprosate.

It also functions as a supplement to be taken prior to a planned drink. In fact, naltrexone works so well to reduce relapse that many alcoholics use it to successfully drink on a regular basis with very few reports of high binge drinking. Therefore, it might be entirely possible in the near future for alcoholics to simply carry a bottle of naltrexone with them for drinking occasions instead of attending an AA meeting when the urge to drink hits.

Putting It Into Perspective

If you think of these drugs being used to treat an ongoing disease like asthma, which alcoholism is, then it might make more sense. So, in this example, consider that the majority of asthma sufferers have both a daily inhaler and an emergency inhaler. Therefore, for people with alcohol use disorder, acamprosate is their daily medication and naltrexone is their emergency relapse drug.

Epidemiological Studies and Findings

Currently, clinical trials show that the combination of acamprosate, naltrexone, and cognitive-behavioral therapy have the highest rates of recovery of any system used in drug and alcohol treatment. In fact, this conglomeration of treatment approaches has been studied thoroughly over the past 10 years, revealing abstinence rates of greater than 65%. No other program, not Alcoholics Anonymous, nor SMART Recovery®, comes close to producing these rates of abstinence, and yet very few  treatment programs in the U.S. are engaging in this practice.

Treating Nicotine Addiction: A Case for Medication

Abstinence rates for nicotine are at an all-time high of 82% in the United States according to the CDC.  Nicotine addiction treatment has been the only drug treatment program to have significantly impacted drug use in recorded history.

So what’s happening in nicotine addiction treatment that isn’t happening in the drug rehabilitation industry?

The answer is pharmacological assistance in quitting addiction, which is to say, involving the use of medication(s) as a vital part in helping people overcome their addiction. First of all, it’s now widely known that nicotine is one of most addictive drugs in existence. Considering just how addictive this drug is, how then have smoking rates decreased so dramatically?

The answer to that is this: the use of a medical-psycho-social model of recovery. A comprehensive study from the Western Journal of Medicine in 2002 made two conclusions after scrutinizing over 6,000 articles on nicotine cessation. The first conclusion was that taking FDA-approved medication for the cessation of nicotine more than doubled success at quitting smoking. The second was that the likelihood of successfully quitting increased even further when anti-smoking medication was combined with evidence-based therapy for behavioral modification, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

In Conclusion

There is no study that exists showing that therapy or 12-step programs alone are as effective as a combined therapy and medication program. Knowing this, it’s safe to say that any program that does not prepare recovering alcoholics with the tools of both therapy and anti-addiction medication that can lessen the impact of a relapse is unrealistic and negligent.

Consider this: of those who are attempting life-long abstinence, over 99% will drink at least once within a 20-year period. Therefore, healthcare practitioners are ethically responsible to prepare their patients with alcohol use disorder by providing them with essential information on how to mitigate relapse if it occurs.

Are you seeking recovery for an alcohol or drug addiction? Do you need help finding out where and how to start? Our Addiction Specialists are available around the clock to take your calls and answer your questions. Let us help you. You are not alone.

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