Addiction: The Universal Terrorist

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Episode #2 of The Coaching Through Chaos Podcast on had me on the phone with Dr. Harry Haroutunian. Known simply as “Dr. Harry”, he is the Physician Director of The Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California. He is a “rock star” of addiction medicine to the rock stars and anyone else who comes through their doors. This article will cover information regarding the prevalence of addiction problems in the United States, my tour of the Betty Ford Center prior to this interview, information gathered from my interview with Dr. Harry and resources for addiction support.

Prevalence of Addiction Problems in the United States

Addiction is a terrorist of the worst kind because it does not discriminate. No one is safe from it and once addiction attacks, recovery and rebuilding from the aftermath can take years. The person affected, and their relationship to themselves and their loved ones, is never the same.

SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. The following are some highlights from  the SAMHSA 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health  (published September 2014).

  • In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older (12% of the population) were current illicit drug users. Current in this survey means they have used illicit drugs within the past 30 days. Illicit drugs include “marijuana/hashish, cocaine (all forms), heroin, hallucinogens, inhalants, or prescription-type psychotherapeutics (pain relievers, stimulants, tranquilizers, sedatives) used non-medically”.
  • Marijuana was the most commonly used drug in 2013. It was used by 80% of the illicit drug users at the time of this survey.
  • The numbers for overall use of illicit drugs have stayed relatively the same over recent years but are slightly higher regarding almost all the illicit drugs from 2005-2009.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported the following statistics:

  • Approximately 30 people die in motor vehicle crashes that involve an alcohol-impaired driver. This amounts to one death every 51 minutes.
  • The annual cost associated with crashes involving alcohol-impaired drivers is $59 billion dollars.
  • Excessive drinking was responsible for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults aged 20-64 years. The economic costs of excessive alcohol consumption in 2006 (most recent data reported) were estimated at $223.5 billion.
  • Every day, 44 people in the U.S. die from overdose of prescription painkillers, and many more become addicted.
  • From 2001 to 2013 there was a 2.5-fold increase in the total number of deaths from misuse or overdose of prescription medications.

Those are outrageous numbers!  Statistics can be overwhelming, so I won’t fill you up with more. The above were featured to give you a basic frame of reference for how pervasive this problem is.  You can find some links to help you educate yourself further abut the data collected by both the CDC and SAMHSA in the resource section at the end of this article.


My Tour of Betty Ford Center  betty ford center rancho mirage california

Prior to our phone interview, I had the privilege of participating in The Betty Ford Center’s invite-only “Visiting Professionals Day”. The campus is the size of a community college campus and is in a lovely setting behind a larger medical facility. We were accompanied on the tour by program heads and other staff educating us about all the programs The Betty Ford Center has to offer. These include a state-of-the art Clinical Diagnostic Evaluation Program, a Professionals Program, a Residential Rehabilitation Program, Sober Living homes and a summer program to train medical professionals in addiction. In addition they also have a world-famous Family Program and Children’s Program.

Yes, the Betty Ford Center also has a Children’s Program.
No, this is not for children who are addicted, although through their recent merger with the Hazelden Foundation, treatment programs for adolescents are available.
The Children’s Program is for the children of addicts and alcoholics. Children can attend even if their parents are not patients of the Center. It is a 4-day program in which they can get help to unload the burden of the emotions and secrets they carry when they have an addicted family member. The program is designed to help the children adopt a language for their emotions and to help them understand addiction in terms they can understand. Several of the children attend on scholarship. The Center takes pride that “no child has ever been turned down for financial reasons”.

My Interview with Dr. Harry picture of dr. Harry Haroutunian, M.D.

As the Physician Director of the Betty Ford Center, Dr. Harry has been a central figure in the development of a variety of programs at Betty Ford Center including the Extended Care Program, the Licensed Professionals Program and the Clinical Diagnostic Evaluation Program. He is an internationally known speaker in the addiction field. He has a Recovery Lecture Series and is the author of “Being Sober: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting To, Getting Through and Living in Recovery” (2013).

During the podcast interview, Dr. Harry speaks of the Licensed Professionals Program and the Clinical Diagnostic Evaluation Program (CDEP). The CDEP is one of the most comprehensive assessment programs I have ever heard of. It is designed to determine if a person does in fact have a substance use problem. This is done through a 5 day interview and assessment process with the substance user. In addition to contact with the person in question, they interview pretty much anyone the prospective patient has contact with: friends, relatives, old roommates, etc. (Of course, the prospective patient has given permission for this to happen.)
Blood, hair and urine samples are collected and if necessary polygraph testing can also be administered.
You may wonder why someone would go through all this. If they are at the doors of the Betty Ford Center don’t they already know they have a problem? Well, sometimes it’s not so clear or they are not seeking treatment of their own volition. For example, they may be a pilot or a medical doctor referred by their employer after receiving a DUI. This Clinical Diagnostic Evaluation can also help a person accept that they do, in fact, have a problem. If it is determined they do not have a problem, appropriate referrals can be made if there are other factors causing the person to appear in need of help (i.e. sometimes a medical condition can cause symptoms which mimic intoxication – disorientation, slurred words, etc.). If a person is diagnosed with a Substance Use Disorder and chooses to stay and accept treatment at Betty Ford Center, the cost of the evaluation is absorbed into the cost of treatment. That can be a helpful fact to know when factoring in the cost of treatment.

Recovery Resources

Of course, you can seek help at Better Ford Center or at one of their affiliated  Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation programs or call 866-831-5700.

Dr. Harry’s book: Being Sober: A Step-by-Step guide for Getting To, Getting Through and Living in Recovery

There are many resources to support patients in recovery or for support when you love someone who is struggling with addiction. The following is just a short list to serve as a launching point.

  • Alcoholics Anonymous : AA is an “international fellowship of men and women who have had a drinking problem”. It is a group of self-supporting people seeking to stop drinking. It is open to anyone of any age, gender, race, or education level.
  • Narcotics Anonymous : NA is the same as AA but it is an option for people seeking to stop using drugs (both street and prescription drugs).
  • SMART Recovery : The mission (from their website) “is to support individuals who have chosen to abstain, or are considering abstinence from any type of addictive behaviors (substances or activities), by teaching how to change self-defeating thinking, emotions, and actions; and to work towards long-term satisfactions and quality of life”.
  • or call 211. 211 is a free, confidential referral and information helpline designed to help connect people to social service resources in their communities. It is available 24/7. They cover all manner of need-based referrals including addiction prevention and rehabilitation services.
  • SOLACE: Surviving Our Loss and Continuing Every Day. This an Ohio-based support program for parents who have lost a child to drug abuse. There appears to be ways to network even if one is not in Ohio. If you are interested in this support forum, I would encourage you to check out their website and reach out to them.
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA): This site can be helpful for educating yourself about the prevalence of drug and alcohol problems.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) : This site is great for statistical references on drugs and alcohol as well as governmental sponsored educational materials on the topic.
  • SAMHSA’s National Helpline 1-800-662-HELP (4357): (also known as the Treatment Referral Routing Service) is a confidential, free, 24/7, information service, in English and Spanish. It is for individuals and family members facing mental health and/or substance. This helpline can provide referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations. Callers can also order free publications and other information.
  • Meth Helpline sponsored by : 1-855-DRUG FREE (1-855-378-4373)This hotline is for parents who have concerns about their kids using meth. It is staffed by licensed social workers who are available from Mon-Fri 10:00AM-6:00PM EST in English & Spanish. They can make referrals to appropriate facilities make appropriate referrals. The website also has links to information sources on meth use and treatment locators.

Codependent No More by Melanie Beattie : A classic book for helping those that have typically found themselves in relationships with addicts or alcoholics.

Rational Recovery:The New Cure for Substance Addiction: This is yet another self-help model for recovery.  It  offers an aggressive self-help program to take charge of one’s behavior immediately. It is not spiritual or group-based.  It is focused on getting the individual to make changes on their own.
If you or a loved one are dealing with an addiction, know that resources are available to help you overcome it. I wish you success in your journey.

Disclaimer: Dr. Mullen has not received any compensation from any of the aforementioned resources, the listing of which does not constitute an endorsement. Furthermore, Dr. Mullen cannot be held responsible for information obtained from any of these help lines, websites or support groups.

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