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Alcohol takes its toll

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As you walk into a noon meeting sponsored by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) you’ll find yourself in a large, comfortable and welcoming room with a thoughtful, serious atmosphere. Here, hope looms large.

About a dozen people, both men and women of different ages, came recently to The Meeting Place (981 Cowen Dr.) for support, education and community. Some come regularly. Others are just checking out the scene and deciding if it works for them. A small wooden sign, “Easy does it,” near the entrance reflects the unhurried, peaceful pace inside.

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Anonymity is critical as is confidentiality. In fact, they go hand in hand. It’s only about the feel of the meeting that matters, and what you share and learn.

One recovering alcoholic, John, is very proud of staying sober for over 31 years. Before coming to Colorado in 1992, he lived in Chicago. There, a life changing accident made him look more closely at his addiction to alcohol. After being in a coma for a month followed by a long stint in rehabilitation, John remembered, “By hitting bottom in 1987, I found a power greater than myself, and it wasn’t alcohol.” He credited AA for saving his life.

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If you’re not familiar with AA, here is its stated description: Alcoholics Anonymous is an international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem. It is nonprofessional, self-supporting, multiracial, apolitical and available almost everywhere. There are no age or education requirements. Membership is open to anyone who wants to do something about his or her drinking problem. Go to aa.org for more information.

Alcoholism devastates not only its victims but also family, friends and the entire community. It affects both men and women. Some are “isolated drinkers,” others imbibe at public locations and still others unfortunately drink and drive.

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Frank recalled how he dealt with the alcohol abuse of his three older brothers. “I was four years younger, so I watched, thought, and, sadly, didn’t react much at all.”

No one wanted to listen, Frank said, “My parents would say, “Oh, they’re just relaxing.”

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He added, “Alcohol was always the extra person in the room, and I grew up with chaos.”

He attended Adult Children of Alcoholics AA-sponsored meetings to help him deal with his frustrations and sadness.

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Frank was relieved as his brothers each finally realized alcohol was destroying their lives and stopped drinking in their mid thirties. Steve, the oldest sibling, needed to enter a 90-day rehab center after he was found directing traffic in the nude.

Studies show alcohol abuse affects men more than women. Males drink more often and more heavily than females, consuming greater than twice as much alcohol per year. However, the latest research by The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), an independent Institute of the United States National Institutes of Health, found men were drinking a little less and women are drinking a little more.

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It was an especially clear trend among college students. NIAAA also reported while males still consume more alcohol, the differences between men and women are diminishing.

Local resources

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Carbondale is home to two organizations which separately serve men or women. Aspire Recovery for Women has an all-female staff who work with clients age 25 and older. After the 90-day residential treatment program, an intensive outpatient program kicks in.

Clients must have been assessed by their physicians and stayed sober for 72 hours. Aspire Clinical Director Mary Michael Haley stressed that people can die from untreated alcohol withdrawal.

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She has been in private practice as a psychotherapist for over 20 years, specializing in family issues, addiction counseling, and post-traumatic stress. Now, she offers therapy for women who may also be dealing with drug addiction.

She said, “We need to make sure we are a good fit for each client.”

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Haley explained that 97 percent of the women who come to Aspire have suffered some kind of trauma. She said that women often have more stress than men, especially concerning their children. Female clients often suffer from low self esteem and deal with feelings of shame and guilt.

“Alcoholism results from a combination of heredity and environment,” Haley noted.

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Therapists at Jaywalker Lodge, a male-only substance abuse treatment center, agree with that determination.

“It’s nature and nurture together,” explained Chief Clinical Officer Stefan Bate, “Substance abuse, a chronic disease, may have a genetic predisposition, but it takes an environmental trigger to push people into a downward spiral of destructive behavior.”

Bate is an alumnus of the lodge’s inpatient program which has three 90-day sections, starting with a more intensive basic program, moving to less intensive treatment and then to an outpatient arrangement.

“Our clients,” noted Patrick Shaffer, chief of admissions and marketing, “have all been in previous rehab center, some a few times, others dozens.” He is also an alumnus of the lodge.

“It’s important to note that 67 percent of our clients have been clean and sober for at least nine months,” said Shaffer, adding that the lodge hosts an alumni dinner every Wednesday attracting as many as 70 people.

“We are an ongoing, active community,” Bate said, “And we can offer employment and lifestyle assistance.”

Bates pointed out the name Jaywalker comes from comparing addiction to someone who gets a kick from crossing in the middle of a street while dodging traffic. Although he or she may get hit by a car, they get such a thrill that they can’t stop their dangerous compulsion.

Jaywalker is not a primary care facility and does not offer detoxification (detox). Jaywalker Lodge and Aspire-Recovery for Women serve clients from across the country.

Asked why do people with abuse issues move to the Valley, Bate replied, “They’re hoping for a geographical cure, but you can’t run away from your problems. They always follow.”

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