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Addiction Treatment

8/02/12 4:51pm

Do You Want to Be a "Sober Companion"?

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Do you have what it takes? Photo via

"Sober companions" are often paid big bucks to escort affluent, newly-sober addicts through the difficult period of early recovery. Until now, there's been no real training program for those in the profession, leaving newbies to figure the process out as they go. “It was trial by fire,” Tim Harrington, co-founder of Sustainable Recovery and a sober companion since 2002, tells The Fix. “The person I worked for basically called and said ‘Okay, be ready on Thursday. You’re going to Wyoming for two weeks. Talk to you later.’ There wasn’t a lot of conversation. I didn’t talk to the counselor. Nothing came up on how to be more support than just a warm body.” But the industry's Wild West days could be about to end, with the launch of the Institute for Recovery Companions (IRC) in Los Angeles, which will open its doors to potential trainees this September. Founded by author and addiction expert Dr. Allen Berger, the training center should also prove useful for those interested in working in other areas of the recovery industry, such as treatment centers and sober living facilities. Harrington, who will be one of the program’s trainers, says the curriculum will cover all aspects of the job—so companions will better prepared to serve their clients diverse and often demanding needs. He promises, “It will be a good training service that will support them overall on their track working in the industry.”

A sober companion comes with a hefty price-tag, keeping them well out of most addicts' reach. But Harrington hopes that a more structured industry will prove that the service is worth the cost. “We want people to see this as something that invests in and protects the treatment investment,” he tells us. “Relapse has its consequences and those consequences can be expensive—so you’re just adding that on to the cost anyway. This is a service that can extend recovery and address those things in a more positive and thoughtful way so we can hopefully avoid treatment re-entry.” The IRC anticipates that other training certification programs will spring up in its wake—so their plan is to set the bar high from the start. “We want to change the perception of recovery companions,” Harrington declares.

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By Chrisanne Grise

Ask Jane

8/02/12 4:03pm

Are Gay People More Vulnerable to Addiction?

Q: Are gay people more vulnerable to addiction, on average, than heterosexuals?

[Jane is now exclusively answering your questions about addiction, recovery and the like. Send your questions to janevelezmitchell@thefix.com.]

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By Jane Velez-Mitchell

Fair Dealers

8/02/12 3:15pm

"Virtuous" Dealers Halt Crack Sales in Brazil

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Crack has devastated Rio's poorest.
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Dealers in two of Rio's most famous slums, or "favelas", have reportedly decided to stop selling crack cocaine because of the drug's devastating impact on these communities. The Mandela and Jacarezinho favelas house over 100,000 people, but the dealers say the money to be made is irrelevant. "I am not going to lie to you, there is a lot of profit to be made on crack," says a Mandela-based dealer. "But crack also brought destruction in our community as well, so we're not selling it anymore. Addicts were robbing homes, killing each other for nothing inside the community. We wanted to avoid all that, so we stopped selling it." Not wishing to make a career change, most dealers plan to shift their focus to powder cocaine and marijuana. Local police are, unsurprisingly, skeptical of the motives behind the decision. "I think this is just a trick that the traffickers are doing," says Marcello Maia, a top drug crime investigator. "What they think is that now the police will stop combating other drugs they are selling, and we still stop entering their strongholds. But this is not what is going to happen." Brazil is known as a major exporter of cocaine to Europe and cocaine seizures in Brazil have tripled from eight metric tons in 2004 to 24 metric tons in 2009, according to The United Nations 2011 World Drug Report. In November 2011, Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff introduced a $2.2 billion initiative (of which about $125 million will go to Rio) to remove crack addicts from the streets and place them into treatment facilities, as well as to create addiction prevention programs.

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By McCarton Ackerman

Doctor Blunders

8/02/12 2:17pm

Many Doctors Don't Spot Drinking Problems

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Your secret's safe with these guys!
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Unless patients show up to their appointments intoxicated, alcohol problems often go overlooked by clinical staff, according to an overview of 39 studies from the UK's Leicester University. Published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, the findings suggest that in addition to failing to spot problem drinkers, doctors also misdiagnosed a reported 5% of "normal drinkers" by labeling them as problem ones. Out of 20,000 patients assessed, general practitioners identified 40% of problem drinkers, hospital doctors spotted 50%, and mental health specialists recognized 55%. Alarmingly, correct diagnosis rates didn't improve even when some patients had self-reported alcohol problems, suggesting that many doctors are failing to ask appropriate questions about patients' drinking habits. To their credit, doctors did note when their patients were drunk during their check-ups—but only 90% of the time. Dr. Alex J Mitchell, the researcher who led the study, said: "There needs to be a greater awareness of the importance of carefully assessing alcohol problems for non-intoxicated patients. Patient responses to questioning about drinking habits should not be assumed to be misleading but questioning must be handled sensitively".

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By Gabrielle Wuhl

Olympic Addicts

8/02/12 1:11pm

"Post-Olympics Let-Down" May Trigger Addiction

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What now? Photo via

Winning Olympic gold may trigger depression and addiction, according to a new study. Past research has found intensive exercise can be as addictive as heroin, which is why athletes with such demanding training often develop a dependence. A third of elite athletes have an "unhealthy preoccupation" with training, scientists in Melbourne found—and for many athletes, stopping exercise can lead to depression and anxiety, as well as drug-like withdrawal symptoms. “Exercise can be like a pill,” says David Bentley, a triathlete who teaches exercise physiology at the University of Adelaide. “It does similar things chemically to a number of different systems in the body, and if you exercise all the time, your body will change almost like it does in response to some pharmacological interventions.”

The findings shed light on why Olympic athletes may be more prone to eating disorders, substance abuse, and suicide than the rest of the general population and may need help adjusting to life when the games are over. “We call it the post-Olympics let-down," says Nicole Detling, a sport psychology consultant for the US Speed Skating team and the US Ski and Snowboard Association. She notes that the time period following retirement can be psychologically painful, and can drive many athletes in to clinical depression. “A lot of retired athletes report fairly significant mental health concerns and an increased level of substance dependence,” says Frances Quirk, co-editor-in-chief of the journal Performance Enhancement & Health. “There are other factors that contribute to that in terms of pressure, isolation and competition, but there is a biological story.”

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By Valerie Tejeda

tv Addicts

8/02/12 12:07pm

Breaking Bad Actors Inspired by Addiction

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Cranston and Paul have their own twisted
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Ever wonder how Breaking Bad actors Bryan Cranston (who plays Walter White) and Aaron Paul (who plays Jesse Pinkman) are able to deliver such loaded performances week after week? The actors have admitted they draw from their own personal experiences of loved ones who abused alcohol and drugs. When getting into character, Cranston says he thinks about the alcohol abuse in his family that led to his parents divorcing. "I have some anger issues," he tells Rolling Stone. "There was alcohol abuse. And there were broken lives. There were two broken people. It was ugly. I didn't see my father for 10 years." Meanwhile, Paul's character of Jesse, a meth dealer, hits painfully close to home because a former girlfriend of his suffered from meth addiction. "It went from coke and then it escalated to meth," says Paul. "Meth is the one that grabbed, like, nails-deep into her soul and slowly just ripped it out. She was this beautiful being, turned to this hollow shell." And while this acting method could potentially cost the actors some cash for therapy, it seems to be benefitting their careers. Cranston has won three Emmys for his work on the show and been nominated for two Golden Globes, while Paul picked up his own Emmy in 2010.

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By McCarton Ackerman

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