Some years ago, an acquaintance who became a friend confided to me that he is a recovered alcoholic. He held significant standing and was considered one of his firm’s best young lawyers. I was forever left with the impression that addicts are among all of us, and they are oftentimes the most valued assets of our organizations.
Chances are good an asset to your company is an alcoholic or substance abuser, will become one, or is in recovery. Chances also are strong you don’t know this person has a problem. Substance abuse has long drained resources from workplaces and destroyed families, but the good news is research has yielded adoption of advanced, science-based treatment approaches and new recovery support technologies that can enhance Employee Assistance Programs, effectively helping employers heal and retain valuable employees as well as assist their families. At the core of these advances is a growing understanding and recognition that addiction is a chronic brain disease.
Although some longtime and dedicated providers have helped countless addicts, experts say the industry failure rate exceeds 70 percent. The historic inability to effectively treat addiction is rooted in the long-held belief that addiction is a moral sin or behavioral problem, few recognize it as a medical condition, and the ‘traditional’ approach demands treatment be completed in about a month – a number figure set by insurers that researchers agree is not nearly long enough. Most programs are one-size-fits-all that vary from provider to provider, clinic to clinic, counselor to counselor – there is no one approach that is standard much less improved upon.
Society’s view of the addict has also held back advances in treatment. For too long, most addicts have been viewed as weak, non-productive members of society, but today ignorance is fading as many now understand addiction is prevalent across all layers of people, including our most highly regarded professionals. A large number of substance abusers began ‘by accident’ through overuse of painkiller drugs for chronic pain or drinking at the end of the day to ‘take the edge off.’
Substance abuse is pervasive, deadly and expensive. Alcoholism alone is the third leading cause of death in the United States. State and federal governments spend more than $15 billion per year, and insurers another $5 billion more annually, on substance abuse treatment services for about four million people. Researchers estimate that some 20 million Americans who could benefit from treatment are not getting it, but passage of the mental health parity law in January will help as addiction treatment under federal law now requires insurers to cover mental and physical ailments at the same level. And these cost estimates don’t include what businesses spend for insurance coverage and programs to manage risks and limit exposure from accidents and mismanagement problems.
The good news is strong scientific evidence clearly identifies addiction as a chronic brain disease, and a select number of treatment providers are employing advanced, science-based approaches. Advanced providers offer dual diagnosis, which identifies and treats not only the addiction but also other underlying behavioral issues, such as chronic depression, that can feed addictive behavior. Cutting edge medication therapies are used to help abusers overcome cravings and can help with long-term sobriety. Neurological therapies are used to help correct brain trauma caused by addictive behavior and help restore deficiencies in cognitive functioning. Critically important, information is shared with addiction scientists to further improve treatment practices, as is common among those who treat any type of disease such as cancer.
Another significant development in substance abuse treatment is use of technology to sustain recovery, including online recovery tools employers are offering as a vital component of their Employee Assistance Programs. Online eSessions are helping people utilize the most advanced addiction behavior modification techniques across all phases of recovery, can be administered and monitored by the patient’s therapist, and is filling a critical gap in recovery for those who live in areas without adequate therapeutic or group support. The program elements described have recently been adopted by the Baylor Health Care System as a component of its Employee Assistance Program, which is provided to its 20,000 employees in North Texas. We expect the industry to increasingly embrace technology to reach more people in need of help.
David M. Kniffen is the president of Enterhealth, an addiction disease management company located in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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