Recovery Month - An Interview from the Field
- Published on September 01, 2011
September is National Recovery Month. In order to help in this effort the Indiana Prevention Resource Center (IPRC) interviewed Amanda Barge, LCSW (License in Clinical Social Work) in Indiana. Amanda holds a Bachelors Degree (BA) from Indiana University in Gender Studies and Political Science, and a Master of Science in Social Work (MSSW) from the University of Texas. Amanda has also been a State Certified HIV Test Counselor in Indiana and a Certified Smoking Cessation Counselor with the American Cancer Society. Amanda is employed at Williamson Counseling in Bloomington, IN.
Amandas areas of expertise include: anxiety, depression, and stress management, helping children and families cope with life changes and challenges, job loss, addiction and recovery maintenance, couples therapy and pre-marital counseling, parenting issues and postpartum depression.
As a therapist, Amanda works with individuals, families and couples in every stage of recovery and addiction, from those who do not see their use as a problem to those who are new to sobriety, to those who are in the maintenance phase. This may involve helping the person prevent relapse, dealing with difficult emotions, setting goals for the future, or problem solving conflicts they are having at work or home.
IPRC: September is National Recovery Month, how does your work as a therapist involve recovery?
Amanda: There are several ways to define recovery. There is not just one road or path to take to recover from addiction. It is an empowering process that requires an individual to be self-directed and they have to have some recognition that there is a problem in their lives due to their substance use.
National Recovery Month promotes the positive aspects of recovery, and showcases how treatment and prevention play a key role in helping communities recover. It reminds us that recovery is possible and it works and it changes peoples lives, improving communities and families every day. I encourage people in our community to attend an event and hear positive stories of recovery, or learn more about what you can do to get involved in helping those with addictions. It is rare that I meet someone who does not know someone with an addiction. This is not a disease that discriminates; and it can lead to death for young, old, rich and poor. According to the SAMHSA National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), there are about 23 million people who need treatment for addiction in the United States and only about 2 million actually get the help they need. We still have so much work to do in getting our community to help those in need and we need the support of everyone in our community to make sure we have the resources to help people recover!
IPRC: Addiction is often viewed as a personal weakness and a character flaw; people who have addictions do things that are hard for those of us without an understanding of addiction to comprehend, what are your thoughts on this?
Amanda: Addiction is a chronic, progressive brain disease that, if untreated, can result in death. It impacts multiple brain circuits including those involved in reward and motivation, learning and memory and inhibition. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-IV), it is also a mental illness described by behavioral symptoms like cravings, withdrawals and continuing to use a substance despite negative consequences. Because it is a chronic illness, most people require long-term support from treatment, self- help groups or both.
Many people have difficulty understanding how people become addicted to alcohol and other drugs. Often people think that if someone just made better choices, or picked themselves up by their bootstraps they could stop using. In reality, drug addiction is a complex disease, and quitting takes more than willpower. The reality is that quitting is extremely difficult, even for those who want to and are ready to do so. It requires a level of accountability, support, willingness and acknowledgment that cannot be achieved until the person is ready.
IPRC: What do you think are some ways that the fields of prevention and treatment can work together to help foster an understanding of addiction?
Amanda: The idea of prevention and treatment working together is definitely not a new concept. We know that prevention works and we know treatment works and when the two fields come together as partners to work on the issue of recovery, we can intervene more quickly, and we will be better at addressing our communitys needs. We see that really working when people are willing to cross-train, share information and reduce any biases we might have. At the state and federal level, there is definitely more emphasis on treatment and prevention working together to target specific issues within substance abuse. HIV prevention, education and testing for chronic substance users is a great example of how prevention and treatment can work together effectively to reduce multiple risky behaviors simultaneously.
IPRC: There seems to be a need for greater understanding between people in recovery and those who have not experienced addiction and its effects. Why is it important for everyone in the Bloomington community to support recovery efforts?
Amanda: Everyone is affected by addiction either directly or indirectly. Our families, workplaces, schools and legal system are affected by substance abuse. Maybe youre the parent of a teen who was offered drugs at school. Maybe your partner is an alcoholic but wont get help. Maybe you were hit by a drunk driver. Maybe your supervisor keeps calling in sick at work because theyre using drugs/alcohol and you have to pick up the slack. It could be that your neighbor is selling drugs out of their home. It might be a woman you saw nodding off at the playground while her toddler played. Maybe its your best friends sister, or your own mother who became addicted to medication that was prescribed to her. It is everywhere in our community and we are all affected.
The costs of addiction economically cannot be ignored. According to the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), the nationwide costs of substance abuse were almost 500 billion dollars in one year. They also reported that the same year, the costs for cancer were a little over 100 billion dollars. Given the economic difficulties our country faces, it is smart fiscal policy to tackle addiction and recovery head-on.
Here are some positive ways recovery has impacted our community directly: It has brought families back together, put people back in jobs or helped them finish school, get bank accounts or cars for the first time, allowed individuals to obtain their first apartment or home, and taken many out of a lifetime cycle of being involved with the legal system. Recovery helps many people get their basic needs met from taking care of their physical health to addressing their mental health needs. Plain and simple, recovery works. Supporting recovery means supporting our community!
IPRC: Social work and therapy are challenging and rewarding career choices. What inspired you to choose these directions?
Amanda: One of the core values I learned growing up is that you donate time to volunteer in the community. My mom would drag me to stuff envelopes or drive older people to the polls. Both of my parents were extremely passionate and modeled that. I never questioned being involved in helping Bloomington be a better place. I also experienced some personal difficulties and when I learned I could overcome them, I knew I wanted to help others do the same. Now, some seasoned social workers would say that is the worst reason to get in the field. You must not become a social worker to try to fix your family, your mental health, or someone elses. It is crucial to work on yourself before trying to help someone else.
I was drawn to addictions work initially because of my life experiences. But once I got into it, I got more than I could imagine out of seeing people change from the inside out. And its nice because when someone gets sober and is working to get better, there is a lot of change very quickly and you get to help with that. Its pretty amazing to see someone have that light bulb moment and then use what they have learned to make their life better.
IPRC: What are some first steps or resources for people who are thinking of seeking help for an addiction or for those who have family or friends dealing with addiction?
Amanda: If you think you might have an addiction and you need help congratulations on taking the first step towards getting better! Recognizing the problem is an important step. It is helpful to know that you are not alone. Many people have walked in your shoes and have figured out how to live a wonderful life without substances and you can do that, too. The next things you can do are talk to someone you trust or a professional, or even better take your support person with you to talk to a professional. Remember not to rely on your support person to tell you whether or not you are an addict and need help! They may or may not tell you the truth, they may be invested in you not making changes, or they simply might not know. It is important to talk to someone who you know has specific training or is in recovery themselves.
You can contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP. It is free and available 24 Hours a day. They can give you information about self-help groups, treatment, and answer your questions about addiction. You can also visit the SAMHSA website to find a treatment provider in your area at findtreatment.samhsa.gov. You might already know a treatment professional in town. If you do, that is great. Contact them and they can help you make a plan. It is important to see a professional who is comfortable working with addictions so if you are calling providers, make sure to ask that question first before you waste your time. If they are not comfortable, they can refer you to a professional who is experienced in the field.
Another very important component of addictions recovery is the self-help group. Every day, at various times in Bloomington and surrounding counties you can find a 12-Step Meeting and meet people who are going through the same things you are experiencing.
You can visit www.aa.org for information about Alcoholics Anonymous or www.na.org for information about Narcotics Anonymous. If you are considering going to one of these groups but are afraid, ask a support person if they would consider attending with you. Or, you can visit the Recovery Engagement Center right here in Bloomington at 221 North Rogers Street. This is a great resource area for people new to recovery.
Remember: Family members, including kids, need help too! Al-Anon and Alateen are also great free support groups. Al-non holds meetings on a daily basis and is for adult family members and loved ones of addicts. Alateen is a support group just for teens, to find out about meetings in your area please visit http://www.al-anon.alateen.org/how-to-find-a-meeting. If you are a parent or adolescent looking for help, the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA) at www.nacoa.org has amazing resources.
IPRC: Can you discuss some barriers to treatment?
Amanda: The first and biggest barrier to get past is denial. Once a person owns the problem, many of these barriers can be overcome by asking for help from others. Barriers to treatment vary depending on your gender, socioeconomic status, and even where you live. In rural areas, treatment options are scarce and in smaller towns, the stigma is high and there is the barrier of feeling like everyone knows everyone and people will talk. For women, childcare and transportation are often cited as the top barriers. Particularly in situations where women are in abusive relationships and find it difficult to leave their home, do not have control over the finances, and are isolated. Other issues for people accessing treatment are lack of support, fear, fear of loss of privacy, time conflicts with the offered programming, poor availability or lack of treatment appropriate programming, and the stigma associated with admitting an addiction problem.
IPRC: Addiction is a disease that affects all types of people yet the perception of addicts as bad, crazy, stupid or immoral persists. What can be done to challenge these stereotypes?
Amanda: Again, the prevention, research and treatment communities have to work together to educate the public that this is an illness that can be treated. And it requires some openness on the part of people to take a look at their long-held beliefs and ask if those beliefs are really true. Sometimes it is as simple as admitting that this thought is not just wrong, but it is hurtful. And, like all forms of discrimination, we have to combat it at all levels.
That being said, I think we have made amazing strides in debunking stereotypes about addiction and mental illness. I think it will take time, but research, prevention, and treatment communities need to keep working together to continue to have an impact on this. The more we hear from people in recovery about their experiences, the less scary addiction will be to people. It is really hard to continue to tell yourself that addicts are stupid when you find out your doctor, or your mother-in-law, or your neighbor is one. We still have a lot of work to do but it is better.
For more information about Amanda Barge and Williamson Counseling please visit their website at: http://www.nickiwilliamson.com/?page_id=2
For information about National Recovery Month and what you can do in your community visit SAMHSAs (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) website at: http://www.recoverymonth.gov/