A New Treatment Model for Alcohol Misuse

A New Treatment Model for Alcohol Misuse

By Tonja Bagwell MA 12/28/16

Although 65 percent of the 2.3 million incarcerated people meet criteria for substance abuse or addiction, only 11 percent receive treatment.

Image: 
A New Treatment Model for Alcohol Misuse
Punishment is not a solution, and it is not therapeutic.

In addiction treatment, there is a long history of people with personal experience with addiction responding to their struggles by pursuing a career in addiction counseling. Often their experience is directly as an individual who struggles with substances, but frequently it is the substance misuse of a family member that provides the motivation to understand addiction and help others. Here, Tonja Bagwell describes her journey and the innovative model she has developed for working with alcohol misuse… Richard Juman, PsyD

My Personal Agony with Alcohol

I experienced the agonizing heartache of losing my dearly beloved father at the youthful age of 53. The helplessness I felt watching him consume alcohol year after year, and that intuitive feeling that it could end miserably, caused sadness, fear, and misunderstanding throughout my childhood and early adulthood. I wish I knew then what I have learned and continue to learn about alcohol, alcoholism, and how they affect a person’s overall wellness. I often ponder if I could have helped my father during that time if I had developed a clinical and educational tool. As with readers today, he could have made a choice to utilize tools presented to help guide him on a path of wellness.

I remembered my father’s alcoholism did not include anger, arrests or assaults. My father was a model citizen and functioning alcoholic who was responsible enough to maintain a family, a home, a job, friends, and his relationship with God. Yet, he did suffer from two critical components: alcohol and attitude. He did not have a negative, angry, or threatening attitude. Yet, he did have an attitude similar to most functioning alcoholics: He was in denial about having an alcohol abuse or dependency problem. My father came from an era and culture that did not acknowledge alcoholism or alcohol abuse as a disease. Nor was it recognized as a health problem in need of treatment. Some people from his era (and today) thought alcohol abuse was a bad habit. A behavior believed to be caused by sinful thoughts or mischievous socializing that could be controlled by self-discipline and prayer. If a person was too intoxicated or hungover for work, they were considered to be “sick.” They were not considered to be sick from the disease of alcoholism.

Certain individuals are from an era or culture of denial that tends to be based in disgrace, secrecy, judgment, and pride. They will not acknowledge, accept or seek help for an alcohol problem, all because they do not want to feel disgraced or judged. They feel a sense of pride and think their community may judge their family if the shameful secret is exposed. They would rather deny it is a serious problem and continue to act as though it were a simple lifestyle change they can make when they are finished having fun.

People lose loved ones to alcohol on a daily basis. Individuals either consume enough alcohol to poison themselves quickly, or they die slowly after suffering with cirrhosis, cancer, heart disease and other deadly conditions attributable to alcoholism. Alcohol-related deaths do not seem to garner the same desperate outcries of fear, shock or threat to society as mass shootings and heroin overdoses, although they are much more common. As deadly as alcohol is and as high as alcohol-related death tolls are, there should be more public protests. More than three decades ago, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was successful in establishing a huge public awareness movement. It has been instrumental in legislative changes related to drunk driving offenses. MADD is one organization that is reminiscent of those who engaged in alcohol protests during Prohibition. Women have been outraged by the damaging and deadly effects alcohol has had on children, families and communities. From the 18th century to the 20th century, women instigated protests against alcohol abuse and the problems that accompany it.

Detaining Does Not Equate to Abstaining

A percentage of my counseling specializes in the treatment of clients who were arrested, jailed, put on probation, and court-mandated to counseling treatment. From a treatment perspective, punishment is not a solution, and it is not therapeutic. A small percentage of clients with self-abusive and addictive behaviors tend to develop anger, anxiety, and attitude problems. This leads to more alcohol and arrests. There was a noticeable recidivism problem with a few clients appearing in treatment a second, third, fourth, or fifth time. Law enforcement continued to arrest them, the judicial system continued to punish them, and counselors continued to treat them. It was like a merry-go-round that needed a change of direction. I realized that a drastic change was needed in order to help lower and/or eliminate recidivism.

People are often sentenced to jail or prison with alcohol (or drug) abuse or addiction problems. A few of them may find the means to maintain their use during detention. Several clients noted that the jail’s alcohol and drug testing policy was inconsistent, claiming the inconsistency depended on which guard was on duty. Many of them used drugs or alcohol to calm their anxiety and/or anger about being detained in an uncomfortable jail environment. They seemed to have thought that being high or intoxicated in their cell would help them get through the ordeal. Considering that their initial charges involved an alcohol offense, you would think that the risk of testing positive would not be worth it. In American prisons and jails, 65 percent of the 2.3 million incarcerated people meet criteria for substance abuse or addiction. This number goes as high as 85 percent if you take into consideration that many have addiction histories, committed their crime under the influence, or are there for an alcohol (or drug) violation. Despite these statistics, only 11 percent of inmates (in prisons and jails) receive treatment for their substance use disorders. A few substance-abusing inmates actually look forward to a recovery program while they are incarcerated. They think the danger of the people, places, and things that caused problems on the outside would not get in the way of their recovery in jail or prison. In reality, the people (other substance-abusing inmates) and things (drugs and alcohol) found in jails and prisons are as frightening or worse than those on the streets the inmate left behind.

A New Model for Offenders

Over the years, I have realized that alcohol abuse is connected to components that deserve mental health counseling, anger management, psychiatric care and medications, as well as therapeutic tools for life changes. In my impending book, the 6-A Model™ of Alcohol Abuse in Offenders (6-AMAAO), I present evidence that depicts alcohol as the nucleus of interlinked components that distress lives and communities throughout the nation. Anxiety sufferers often hope to achieve calmness with an alcoholic drink, but it sometimes increases their anxiety. They may begin to feel edgy, which could lead to more alcohol and more anxiety. Angry individuals sometimes drink alcohol to lessen their anger; however, it can lead to an unpleasant attitude. An angry, intoxicated person with a negative attitude is more likely to assault someone. An assault against another person can lead to an arrest. The anxiety and anger that an intoxicated individual may feel during an arrest, for assault, could heighten their negative attitude. Their inebriated mind might tell them to assault the arresting officer or try to flee the scene. If the person flees, they could cause an accident that harms or kills others. Once the individual is in a jail cell and their drunkenness wanes, they may begin to feel more anxiety and panic. The six components and three sub-components can overlap and keep the person in a vicious cycle of self-destruction. It is imperative to consider each component individually and as a whole. The observations, assessments, counseling notes, and data from my own survey of individuals charged with or convicted of alcohol-related offenses reveal that a high percentage of them struggled with the following key components interlinked to alcohol: anger, anxiety, arrest, assault, and attitude. Co-occurring disorders, accidents and jail are three sub-components that are often connected to the key components. Many survey participants were challenged by one to three of the subcomponents, in addition to one to six of the key components. Other problematic conditions that afflicted the offenders included the misuse of nicotine, illegal drugs, prescription drugs and caffeine. The 6-A Model focuses on elements that are easily applied by substance abuse counselors, administrators, educators and parents in clinical, therapeutic, organizational, instructive, domestic, and personal improvement programs. It helps in recognizing the detrimental effects alcohol and its interlinked components have on individuals as well as societies.

The 6-A Model was established as a tool to help offenders, pre-offenders, and non-offenders who share the commonality of alcohol use, misuse or abuse. Denial is not a component. However, it is the antagonist and deterrent that may prevent some individuals from receiving the help they do not realize they need. As I developed this model, I adapted it to match the needs of real clients as they struggled with the reality of the six key components and three sub-components. Some clients were somewhat angry, fearful or uncertain about tackling their struggle with the components—making changes to who they had become accustomed to being was not easy. They did not always like who they were or how they were doing, but it seemed less cumbersome than making the effort to change. The anxiety, fear of failure and fear of relapse caused some clients to think it was too much pressure to make changes.

Death With Alcohol or Life Without Alcohol

Alcohol is a legal assassin that is welcomed and loved by many. Sometimes alcohol kills instantly like an assassin’s bullet, but often death by alcohol is a slow and sometimes agonizing process. Unfortunately, the alcoholic is usually oblivious to the agony. Alcohol numbs their senses. It would be miraculous if the agonizing pain of sober loved ones was enough to pull many from under their alcohol-induced spell. If only the alcoholic could grasp how much sorrow their loved ones will feel if the dream-destroying killer ends their life. At times, alcohol abusers feel entangled in a web of alcohol, anger, anxiety, arrest, jail, and failures. The 6-A Model of Alcohol Abuse in Offenders provides the education, knowledge, and motivation to implement changes in thoughts and behaviors. It can help alcohol abusers and offenders take strides toward a healthier and safer lifestyle. It is also a preventative maintenance tool to help non-alcohol abusers and non-offenders stay on a path filled with healthy and safe choices grounded in alcohol-free sagacity. I observed a change in thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors for some clients who were receptive to learning and applying tools from the 6-A Model. The book and workbook are currently available from the publisher at http://www.jafansta.net/6-a-model-book.html.

Tonja Bagwell, MA, CADC, ICADC, LMT is experienced in motivating clients with a solution-focused, person-centered, and systemic approach that is compassionate and considerate of the client's holistic needs. She integrates her training, experiences and interests in Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT), Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), humor therapy, Cinematherapy, and nutrition to embody a distinctive counseling style. Tonja is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) and a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT). She has worked extensively with substance abuse (especially alcohol) clients struggling with co-occurring disorders (COD). Tonja recently published two innovative books, 6-A Model of Alcohol Abuse in Offenders and 6-A Model of Alcohol Abuse in Offenders Workbook. She is working on Tules: Realistic Rules and Therapeutic Tools, which will be available sometime in 2017. She founded Bagwellness, Inc (an online and mobile counseling, consulting, and wellness business) that is in the early developmental stage. Connect with Tonja on her blog.

Please read our comment policy. - The Fix
Disqus comments
Tonja Bagwell.jpg

Tonja Bagwell, MA, CADC, ICADC, LMT is experienced in motivating clients with a solution-focused, person-centered, and systemic approach that is compassionate and considerate of the client's holistic needs. She integrates her training, experiences and interests in Expressive Arts Therapy (EAT), Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), humor therapy, Cinematherapy, and nutrition to embody a distinctive counseling style. Tonja is a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (CADC), an Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) and a Licensed Massage Therapist (LMT). She has worked extensively with substance abuse (especially alcohol) clients struggling with co-occurring disorders (COD). Connect with Tonja on her blog. You can also find her on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.

Disqus comments