Drinking in the Economy Has a No-Win Twist

economy and treatment

To "hit rock bottom" is a phrase commonly used in Alcoholics Anonymous. It describes a loss so extraordinary, so painful, that it becomes a turning point.

Yet as the recession marches on, a typical "rock bottom" loss has become all too ordinary: a lost job, lost savings or a lost home. At the same time, alcohol treatment centers are reporting an uneasy lull -- for now.

"The industry as a whole has seen a decline in people getting into treatment," said Franklin Lisnow, an addiction counselor and the executive director of the Center for Dependency, Addiction and Rehabilitation in Aurora, Colo.

"It only means that we're going to see sicker people when they do get in," Lisnow said.

By accounts of the liquor industry, Lisnow's expected patients are likely be drinking quietly at home.

Frank Coleman, spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council, said that while sales of liquor are still on the rise, they are growing at a slower rate than they were before the recession hit. Coleman said dips in sales at restaurants and other public establishments are primarily to blame.

"Whatever growth there is, is in home consumption and not in restaurants," Coleman said.

Even in good times, experts said 8 percent to 10 percent of those who have an alcohol addiction are properly recognized and get into treatment. More often than not, though, they are the lucky ones who have jobs, families and most important, money and health insurance to cover counseling.

But if an addict delays long enough, they might get closer to joining another portion of the population that gets rehabilitation treatment funded.

"I just had an extremely perfect set of circumstances that led me to this recovery," said Chris Jamieson, of Franklin, Tenn.

Jamieson, now 26, said he finally got sober through a rehabilitation program in jail.

Jamieson said he started acting up after his parents divorce at age 14. He said he started drinking casually at age 16 and really started to abuse alcohol at age 19.

"I actually got my girlfriend pregnant. Her parents found out and took her and had her get an abortion," he said. "They attempted to cut contact off between us."

The day after the abortion, Jamieson said he had to leave for college torn, confused and upset.

"After that I made a conscious decision to drink more than anybody else at a party," he said.

Once a student with As and Bs, he started to drink so much he was kicked out of school within a year and a half for bad grades.

It wasn't his first DUI, or the second or third or fourth that turned around his life, Jamieson said. It was the rehabilitation and jail time that came from his sixth DUI that did the trick, he said.

Rehabilitation Can Work, If You Can Afford It

"Being locked up helped me dry out and give me a chance to really think about what was going on," he said. "It was the nine months in jail, the rehabilitation program I was in, it just seemed that everything worked really well together."

Statistics on the success rate of such rehabilitation can vary widely.

Dr. David R. Gastfriend, vice president of scientific communications at Alkermes Inc., which produces an alcohol dependence medication, sites a failure rate of 75 percent.

"If you look at the outcome of relapsing within the first year, the general figures are 75 percent relapse," he said, defining relapse as five or more drinks in a day or five days of consecutive drinking.

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