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Gains, Challenges Noted in War on Alcoholism

May 13, 1986|SHERRY ANGEL

Betty Ford works on a deep emotional level, talking frankly about how she overcame her own alcohol addiction. Researcher Boris Tabakoff takes a clinical approach, studying genetic patterns and brain waves.

But it was clear when both appeared last week at a conference in Anaheim that they are working toward a common goal: eliminating the social stigma that keeps alcoholics from admitting their addiction and seeking help.

"Eight years and one month ago I was being treated for alcohol and chemical dependency and, thank God, fortunately, it took," the former First Lady on Wednesday told about 200 members of the National Assn. of Alcoholism Treatment Providers (NAATP), which is based in Irvine.

"Since then, we've made great strides in public awareness and in the push for treatment," Ford said. "We still have a long way to go, but after centuries of denial and heads-in-the-sand attitudes, it's great to be where we are today."

Lauded for Courage

Ford was presented the Nelson J. Bradley award--in memory of the Minnesota doctor considered the pioneer of modern alcoholism treatment--for the hope her "personal courage" has given others and for the "positive view of alcoholism treatment" fostered by the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage near Palm Springs.

Two days later, Tabakoff closed the conference at the Anaheim Hilton by reporting that a continuing study of 80 families in which alcoholism spans three generations has revealed a startling connection between genetics and addiction.

"This is a great step forward in changing our perception of this disease," said Tabakoff, who is acting deputy director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in Rockville, Md., where the family study is under way.

"The realization that genetics plays an important role in the development of alcoholism proves it is not simply a moral weakness. It is a medical problem. These people are chemically different from others."

The conference brought directors of for-profit and nonprofit alcoholism treatment programs--many of which are competitors--together to share ideas on marketing strategies as well as treatment methods. Discussion also covered the need for clearer guidelines for admitting and diagnosing patients, placing them in treatment programs and evaluating results.

The conference was an occasion to celebrate the progress Ford symbolizes for patients and alcoholism treatment providers. (As one participant explained, "She's a classy lady. When she admitted her alcoholism, it became OK for others to do it.")

Areas of Concern

It was a time to focus attention on gaps in service--particularly the need for specialized treatment for the nation's estimated 3 million teen-age alcoholics. And it was a time to ponder the effect that research breakthroughs might have on treatment of what Loran Archer, acting director of the NIAAA, called "the most hopeful of all diseases."

Ford set the tone for the workshops ahead when she advised her colleagues to "work together" and cautioned: "The treatment of alcoholism is big business. . . . Don't succumb to the lure of competition. Don't let that distract you from (your main purpose)--helping patients."

In sessions addressing patient needs, speakers discussed the trend toward specialized treatment for such groups as children of alcoholics, the elderly, teen-age alcoholics and even pre-teen-agers. The younger patients seemed to be the primary concern.

"The phenomenal incidence of drug and alcoholism problems among teens has to be dealt with," said NAATP executive director Michael Ford. "We need education, but we also have to have a health care response to this problem."

Inadequate Treatment for Teens

Michael Ford and others identified Orange County as one of many regions where treatment for teen-agers is inadequate.

Wade Potsch, director of Alcohol and Drug Recovery Services at St. Jude Hospital in Yorba Linda, said the county has only a handful of "viable" programs and needs more residential recovery homes to give teen-age alcoholics an alternative to hospitalization.

Gerald Shulman, a psychologist and vice president of clinical programs for the Addiction Recovery Corp. in Waltham, Mass., noted that teen-agers historically have been placed in adult recovery programs. Here, he said, they aren't helped with such adolescent dilemmas as how to resist peer pressure and how to overcome learning difficulties, which often are aggravated by the school absences required during treatment.

Teens also may need help with social skills. For example, Shulman said, "a boy may have learned how to ask a girl out for a date when he's drunk, but in treatment we have to teach him how to act when he's sober."

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