AA helps but it’s not salvation for many alcoholics

Problem alcoholics are locked up and told to “help themselves,” while opiate addicts are provided with daily doses of methadone

Common-sense tells us that alcohol and heroin are both drugs.

One is legal, the other is not.

However, when it comes to treating addicts of either substance, particularly the “hard core” cases, our society does a complete “180.”

In short, problem alcoholics are locked up and told to “help themselves,” while opiate addicts are provided with daily doses of a drug known as methadone.

For the latter, methadose helps them cope and lead everyday lives. Many have families, jobs, pay taxes and go about life as there’s absolutely nothing wrong with them, and most don’t end up back in court for petty crime.

That’s the way it should be, but it’s a different story when it comes to the problem alcoholic.

Last week I gave you the example of Joseph Galligos, a 25-year-old man who came from a dysfunctional family that struggled with substance abuse. He’s still young, but he has a horrendous criminal record that keeps getting longer.

Galligos is currently serving a 45-day sentence for not obeying court orders and drinking when he’s under order not to drink.

Unfortunately, the order falls on the “deaf ears” of an alcoholic who clearly does not have the power or the support to help himself. Instead, he’s sent back to jail with the “comforting words” of Judge Thomas Dohm, “It’s up to you Mr. Galligos, we can’t do it for you.”

It’s hard to blame the judge. His job is to follow the law and to offer some measure of protection to the public.

As well, the judges can’t order alcoholics, or drug addicts, to enter rehab, they have to agree to go. Judges often encourage rehab and counselling, but just as often I hear them advise problem alcoholics to start attending AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings.

That’s good advice and AA has worked for many, many people, but it’s not salvation.

Recently, I listened to a panel discussion on CBC Radio’s The Current. The medical experts, Dr. Lance Dodes and Dr. Bernard Le Foll, say the latest research suggests that AA’s success rate is somewhere between five and 10 per cent.

The experts weren’t on radio to harp about AA, rather they see it as just one tool to help alcoholics.

The better alternative, they say, is clinical treatment for alcoholism. In other words, medication.

In the U.S. and in Europe, sober alcoholics can receive various medications to help curb the compulsion and need to drink. The doctors say the success rate is far better, especially combined with follow-up counselling, etc.

That should be good news for alcoholics who try and try again, but always seem to fail. Unfortunately, these types of clinical treatments are not readily available in Canada and non-existent in jails.

And for people like Galligos, they have usually gone to rehab several times, yet it doesn’t often work out and back to jail they go. For the sake of the Joseph Galligos’ of this world, and for our own sanity, it’s time to offer real help.