Addictions on the rise during economic downturn, experts say
by DIANA FISHLOCK, Of The Patriot-News
Wednesday June 03, 2009, 12:00 AM
This economy is depressing. It might make you want to grab a beer, eat chocolate, possibly go shopping or visit a naughty Web site.
One beer or brownie or shopping trip is fine. It crosses the line to addiction or compulsive behavior when it lodges in your brain and you just can’t shake it.
In the economic downturn, some people who treat addictions are seeing a rise in demand for their services.
“There’s a lot of fear and a lot of anxiety. When those emotions come into play, people feel out of control, and they try to manage their emotions by eating too much, drinking too much,” said Paul Hokemeyer, a therapist with Caron Treatment Centers.
That drink of alcohol, that taste of sugar, that sex or shopping or Internet porn brings a sense of calm, he said.
“It calms you down instantly. You don’t have to sit with the emotion.”
Of course, those are just “Band-Aid solutions,” he said. The underlying problems are still there after the alcohol or the sugar wears off, and certainly by the time the credit card bill has arrived, he added.
“We do know that a poor economy has an impact on drug and alcohol addiction problems. Research shows that the demand for services to treat addiction goes up in tougher economic times,” said Stacy Kriedeman, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health.
Robin Dougherty, intake coordinator for the Salvation Army Adult Rehabilitation Center in Lower Paxton Twp., said clients tell him that life spiraled out of control after they lost jobs or insurance or benefits, so they began drinking or using drugs as an escape.
Dougherty said calls are up by 20 percent over a year ago. But like other professionals, she said it’s difficult to say whether the increase is all due to the economy, because their facility recently expanded.
“If you already have a problem with drugs or alcohol and you lose your job and don’t see a great prospect for finding a job anytime soon or at the salary you had, your tendency is to medicate with whatever your drug of choice is, drugs or alcohol — that’s what addicts do,” said Sheila Ross, a board member of Gaudenzia, which runs treatment programs.
Money is a very emotionally charged topic, Hokemeyer said.
“We’re very connected with what we do for a living, the car we drive, where we live,” he said. “When we’ve tied our identity to these external objects and these objects are threatened, it threatens our identity.”
A month ago, Hokemeyer gave a seminar on the economy and recovery from addictions. “We had more people than we ever imagined would show up. It’s just in the air. The anxiety is in the air. You can’t go anywhere without hearing about it,” he said.
The Eating Disorders Program at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center sees 35-40 new patients a month, up from 25-30 a year ago, said Dr. Richard Levine, the program’s director.
“They don’t come in saying, ‘I’m upset because of the economy so I’m throwing up more,’ but they’re more stressed in general, and stress will trigger eating disorder symptoms if you have an underlying predisposition,” Levine said.
Levine said he has seen an increase in adults and children with eating disorders. “I think if parents are stressed, kids are stressed,” he said.
It’s hard to say whether compulsive gambling has increased because of the economy, said Richard McGarvey, a Gaming Control Board spokesman.
The gaming board has a “self-exclusion” program that allows gambling addicts to have themselves barred from the state’s casinos. The number of people in that program is rising, but it’s been a steady increase, McGarvey said.
Jim Pappas, executive director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of Pennsylvania, said his group’s hot line gets more than 1,200 calls a month. But he normally sees spikes throughout the year, including during football’s Super Bowl, college basketball’s “March Madness,” and baseball’s World Series.
Treatment and rehab centers also are seeing more addicts in need who don’t have the money or health insurance to help pay for services.
“We are serving more homeless people and people in shelters,” said Mavis Nimoh, administrator for Dauphin County Department of Drug and Alcohol Services, which has seen a 10 percent increase over last year, but also had expanded services. “Fewer people are able to do a co-pay, because they aren’t working.”
When clients come without private insurance or money, government funds provide treatment, Ross said.
With cuts in the state and federal budget, “We’re going to see it get leaner before it gets better,” she said.
“We’re always fighting for every dollar as it is. Our private fundraising is hurting, too. … When our private funding suffers, that means there are fewer people we can treat because we have fewer discretionary dollars,” Ross said.
source: PENNSYLVANIA LOCAL NEWS – Real-Time Updates & Breaking News from Central PA