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A month for turning clean and sober

Title: A month for turning clean and sober
Date: Monday, 8 September 2008
Publisher: Gloucester County Times
Author: Carly Romalino
Main source:

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September is National Alcohol and Drug Addiction Recovery month, but for millions of reformed abusers of alcohol and other substances, the cause for celebration was a hard road.

According to Derry Hallmark, recovered addict turned Certified Chemical Dependency Counselor at Oklahoma-based Narconon Arrowhead, only one in 10 addicts is successful in rehabilitation programs. The success rate for those addicted to drugs like crack, he said, is only about one in five people.
"All drug use starts as an attempt to solve a problem," he said. "And eventually, the drug itself becomes the problem."

Although the principal characters in drug addiction tales have classically been heroin, cocaine, crack, methamphetamines and marijuana, Hallmark said there has been a new wave of substances that are easy for abusers to obtain. Prescription drugs, like Percodan, Percocet, Oxycontin and other pain medications are becoming more prevalent in the drug scene.

Abrupt change, Hallmark said, is key in identifying a problem with a spouse or child, whether substance-related or otherwise.

"The child is doing good in school, in communication with the family, and then all of a sudden that changes," he said. "When they come home, they go straight to the bedroom, crank up the music and they want to be alone all the time."

Not all changes in attitude or behavior are due to substance abuse, especially in teens going through puberty and adjusting to school. But regardless of the cause of the change, Hallmark said, parents or a spouse should check it out.

"Somebody has to be able to make the discussion safe," he said. "Let them know, 'Look, we know something is going on, and we aren't going to kill you if something is going on. We aren't interested in getting you in trouble.' "

If the drug user thinks it's "torture time," Hallmark said, they will shut down, and close off the open line of communication that may have led to help. Hallmark stressed calmly approaching the subject.

"If a 16, 17-year-old is smoking pot, it's actually going to give them a huge amount of relief to get it off of their chest," he said. "The family can work with them sanely."

Offering pamphlets and other information about the effects of the drugs or excessive alcohol use might allow the user to recognize the harmful effects on their own.

"If the person is totally reluctant to talk about the issue or get help, move up the gradient a little bit," he said.

Hallmark started drinking at age 8, smoking cigarettes at 9, and his first joint at 13. By his early teens he was drinking regularly, and at 17 he picked up methamphetamines and ended up using crack cocaine that led to jail time, and demolished his career and family.

Now, at 43, he remembers what he was taught in a 12-step program: Families can be enablers. Wanting to help, they feed the addicts, give them a car to drive, and money to fill the gas tank, but every single penny they pass along, the addict uses to find and buy more drugs. Stepping back and refusing to support them, Hallmark said, will force the person to see their problem, capitalizing on every problem that follows.

"He gets arrested for marijuana possession," Hallmark said. "That's the time to get into communication with him."

Although some rehab programs can cost $10,000 to $40,000 a month, or a flat fee of $30,000 like at Narconon, some programs are free. Some are even covered by health insurance or are state-funded.

Although it took Hallmark four months and two weeks to complete his drug recovery program, he learned how to get clean and not crave drugs.

"I stayed on helping other people do the educational things I had to do to become a certified chemical dependency counselor," he said.