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Your Turn: Shining a light on alcohol use disorder

As the nation’s fentanyl-driven drug overdose epidemic continues to consume headlines, it is vital we do not dismiss the threat of alcohol, which causes significantly more deaths and, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is very much a growing concern.

April was National Alcohol Awareness Month, the perfect time for people to reflect on their drinking habits and those of their loved ones, and to understand how alcohol has the potential to destroy lives.

According to a study published last month in the Journal of the American Medical Association, U.S. alcohol-related deaths spiked more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic. That is a startling statistic, even amid so many other troublesome numbers. It’s a great reason to take this annual awareness month to heart.

Overall, alcohol ranks as the third leading cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., behind tobacco and obesity, with approximately 95,000 deaths annually. Of these, 10,265 result from alcohol-related driving fatalities.

While most people are familiar with the terms alcoholism and alcoholic, mental health professionals now diagnose individuals who have drinking issues by what level of alcohol use disorder (AUD) they have. AUD, which combines alcohol abuse and alcohol dependence, is a pattern of problematic drinking that runs on a spectrum of mild, moderate and severe levels of dependence.

In 2019, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism found among American youth, nearly 15 million people ages 12 and older suffered from AUD, including approximately 414,000 adolescents ages 12 to 17. What’s more, more than one out of every 10 American children live with a parent suffering from AUD.

But how do you know if alcohol is a problem in your life? And where do you go for help if it is?

Recovery Centers of America (RCA) at Raritan Bay, located in South Amboy, is among the New Jersey treatment centers focused on educating people about and treating all levels of AUD. In fact, we see more alcohol addiction than drugs. Our 138-bed residential facility applies evidence-based alcohol and drug addiction treatment, with levels of care ranging from a medically monitored alcohol detoxification program to outpatient therapy. Our goal: to help patients achieve a life of recovery.

When I entered the addiction field 26 years ago, treatment centers would attempt to tear down and rebuild patients through the 12-Step program. Many times, I overheard patients being told: “You are nothing but an alcoholic, a moral failure and a bad person.” Thankfully, treatment has come a long way since then.

While RCA believes in the 12 steps, we also recognize addiction treatment isn’t one size fits all. It can’t be that way. You must treat the effects of the addiction but also the causes – from a genetic predisposition to its trauma and mental health challenges that lead people to addiction.

Addiction must be treated holistically, addressing every aspect of the disease. And through this comprehensive approach, we help people understand their disease and co-occurring mental health challenges and give them the tools to live a life without substances.

Treatment begins at the point of the continuum most appropriate to the individual’s needs and disease state. Many begin treatment with medically monitored detoxification and proceed to residential inpatient treatment. For others, outpatient therapy is recommended.

No matter where you start your recovery journey, if AUD is an issue for you, the most important part of treatment is taking that first step to seek help.

I was personally touched by AUD, as the parent of a son who battled, and eventually won, his personal war against addiction. I am ceaselessly proud of him for taking on that battle and getting help before he or someone else was hurt by his actions.

I cannot imagine working in any other field or with any other people, restoring families, renewing hope, saving lives, and for those willing to confront AUD, offering a vision of a life free of alcohol.

Don’t wait to get the help you or a loved one urgently need. While the drug overdose rates are getting the attention they deserve, we need to not take our foot off the gas on addressing AUD.

David Dorschu, MS, is the chief executive officer of Recovery Centers of America (RCA) at Raritan Bay, a drug and alcohol addiction treatment center. He has more than 25 years of experience in the substance abuse field, serving in various leadership positions which incorporate the entire continuum of care. He began his tenure at RCA in 2016 as CEO RCA at Lighthouse. To learn more about RCA at Raritan Bay, visit https://recoverycentersofamerica.com/new-jersey-centers/

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