Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Editorial: Changing the Conversation about Addiction

By Jeanne McAlister, Founder and CEO
McAlister Institute

Too often the conversation about addiction, whether it’s substance abuse, gambling, overeating and or other addictive illnesses, generates negative and/or dismissive commentary. The focus is on the behavior, which can range from well-hidden to, more commonly, disruptive, disheartening and criminal.  Sure, there’s some mention along this path that drug and/or alcohol addiction is a disease, mental or physical.  But the conservation often quickly dismisses the health aspect of addiction and dwells on the behavior. Sympathy and understanding are not terms that immediately come to mind.

The result of this, it seems, is that addiction is most often looked at as a criminal matter or one of choice rather than a health issue.  It’s easy to see why.  All too often we hear about violence connected to the drug culture.  We are confronted by the battle in our own urban and rural communities about illicit and drug trade and use, as well as the surging abuse of prescription drugs.

Since 1977, hundreds of thousands of individuals suffering from addiction have passed through the doors of McAlister Institute, and not one of them – not one – has chosen to become an addict, any more than a person chooses to contract cancer or heart disease. A true, deliberate conversation which focuses on substance abuse as an illness and emphasizes recovery and hope for addicts, family, loved ones, business associates and the community at large is long overdue.

The work of recovery begins with compassion, dedication and commitment to life-style changes.  It involves learning to make good life decisions, retooling of drug-related and dependent paradigms, modifying behavior, increasing self-awareness and understanding the complexity of the disease of addiction. This is hard work; it takes months and even years of recovery and mentoring and a lifetime commitment.  

That is why it is so important to intervene early and provide support to teens who are on the path to addiction. According to the Office of Adolescent Health, in the past month, 39% of high school seniors reported drinking some alcohol and almost 23% reported using marijuana. McAlister’s North Central Teen Recovery Center in Clairemont provides substance abuse treatment, recovery and education for adolescents who are using, misusing, or abusing alcohol and/or other drugs. Each program accommodates teens' school schedules, offering after-school treatment, individual and group counseling and structured recovery activities to help teens develop the tools they need to stay alcohol- and drug-free.

Jeanne McAlister
McAlister treats nearly 7,000 individuals annually who are struggling with substance abuse regardless of ability to pay.  Our staff consists of many professionals who, themselves, are in recovery.  Combined, our organization has more than 1,000 years of recovery.  I strongly believe that in Clairemont we have many individuals who live a life dedicated to sobriety and whose days are filled with hope, but don’t necessarily share their experiences.

I encourage San Diegans in recovery or connected to someone else living a life dedicated to being clean and sober, to visit the McAlister Institute Facebook site and record your number of years clean and sober and offer testimony, if you wish, on what this means to you.  The only way that we can generate true and enduring support is to change the conversation about substance abuse from the negative to one of hope and recovery.

Jeanne McAlister has over 2,000 hours of advanced professional training and is a State Certified Substance Abuse Counselor. She has developed prototypes for substance abuse recovery services that could be replicated by others. McAlister Institute was among the first five organizations in the nation to develop a residential program for women and children, the first in San Diego County to help pregnant addicts become clean so that their children could be “born free,” and the first to create a social model detox.

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