Attacks Spark Rise in Substance Abuse Treatment

Group says stress-related drug, alcohol problems will worsen

WEDNESDAY, Dec. 5, 2001 (HealthDayNews) -- Substance abuse treatment programs in several areas across the country have reported surges in people seeking care for drug and alcohol addiction in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a new survey says.

The survey, which was done last week by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University, shows that 13 states and four cities, including New York and Washington, D.C., reported increases in demand for treatment. Florida, which was the first state affected in the anthrax attacks, also saw a spike.

"I think we're talking about an epidemic of self-medication" for post-trauma stress sparked by the terrorism, says CASA president Joseph Califano, Jr., the former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.

Califano predicts the demand for drug and alcohol treatment will continue to rise as people absorb the events and come to grips with ongoing threats like the anthrax attacks. And he calls on the government to provide more funding for addiction treatment programs.

"This is only three months into this," he says. "They're providing funding for buildings, for roads, for sewers. Let's provide money to help people."

And just as officials have repeatedly put the nation on alert for additional assaults since Sept. 11, Califano says the nation's doctors, clergy and other professionals who provide mental health care need to be on "high alert" for the threat of substance abuse.

CASA says the increase in demand for treatment services parallels a similar trend after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. According to the group, that wave lasted two years after the event.

People exposed to trauma are at a markedly higher risk of substance abuse, CASA says, with stress the leading cause of addiction relapse.

The telephone survey collected responses from 41 states and eight major cities. Thirteen states reported increases in demand for drug and alcohol treatment after the terrorist attacks; four of them -- Alaska, Kentucky, North Dakota and Tennessee -- called the spike "substantial."

Of the rest, 21 said they didn't see any change in demand for treatment, while seven said they weren't sure. But Califano says some of the states reporting no change don't have systems in place to detect such information.

Among cities, four -- Houston, New York City, Phoenix and Washington, D.C. -- saw some rise in demand for treatment services, with New York reporting a substantial increase. Another four cities -- Detroit, Philadelphia, San Antonio and San Diego -- found no such increase.

None of the Western states in the survey reported any increase in treatment demand. And several populous states, including California and Massachusetts, didn't respond to the survey.

The latest survey isn't the only research showing that Americans' unhealthy habits have altered dramatically since the terror attacks.

Pennsylvania substance abuse researchers say treatment admissions are up 10 percent to 12 percent nationally in the months after Sept. 11. They have also found that people who have been sober at least two years are relapsing and being readmitted to treatment programs. That's significant, they say, because those who stay off drugs or drink for a year usually don't backslide.

In New York, the state's Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse says it saw a spike in demand for its treatment services in the New York City area immediately after the attacks. The office's own survey found that the number of group therapy sessions jumped 25 percent in the month after the disaster, while weekly one-on-one treatments rose between 20 percent and 40 percent. Demand was particularly strong for war veterans, the office found.

And a survey from the American Cancer Society released in October found that almost a quarter of the respondents said they started, resumed, or stepped up a "bad habit," such as smoking or drinking alcohol, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks.

The survey also found that 38 percent of the people who said they were smokers reported that since the attacks they were smoking more, lighting up for the first time, or resuming the habit again.

Away from the statistics, alcohol vendors offer a blend of opinions about the attacks' impact on their business.

"I'm selling more, so they must be drinking more," says Lew Gold, manager and owner of New York Beverage Wholesale Co. in Manhattan. Gold says bar and restaurant orders in the city plunged after Sept. 11, but retail demand has kept sales afloat.

However, in the suburbs to the north, Richard McDine says his Yonkers Wholesale Beer has seen a slight falloff in orders.

What To Do

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration says that at least 14 million Americans over the age of 12 used illicit drugs last year, and at least 104 million people, or almost half the population over the age of 12, drank alcohol. Of those, 12.6 million said they drank heavily.

To find out more about drug and alcohol treatment, check out the government's Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. You could also try Moyers on Addiction, a Web site accompanying a PBS series on the topic.

SOURCES: Interviews with Joseph A. Califano, Jr., president, National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, New York; Richard McDine, owner, Yonkers Wholesale Beer Distributors, Yonkers, N.Y.; Lew Gold, manager and owner, New York Beverage Wholesale Co., New York; CASA survey; National Household Survey on Drug Abuse
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