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Alcohol: A clear and present danger




The three top drugs of Jefferson County are alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine, but the No. 1 drug problem is alcohol.

"If you look at the number of people affected negatively by alcohol, the impact is greater than all the other drugs put together," said Jerry Schnell, the former director of Seattle University Addictions Studies and now a Port Townsend resident. "Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than marijuana or methamphetamine."

The retired professor was speaking at the Jefferson County Substance Abuse Advisory Board conference on the three most prevalent drugs in Jefferson County. Titled "A Clear and Present Danger: Our Community Responds," the Tuesday, April 29 conference brought together experts including Schnell, treatment specialists Steven Freng and Ford Kessler, and Katherine Carlson, an anthropology expert who analyzes substance abuse statistics for Washington state.

"Drugs are making war on us and society," said Mark Huth, District Court judge. "They are a growing problem, and they continue to grow unless the community begins to address it now."


Addiction

Drug addiction can be a long, slow slide. If people start using drugs such as alcohol, they can, over time, start abusing that drug, developing psychological and physiological addictions, explained Schnell. For those who develop a physiological addiction, they acquire a tolerance and then a dependence. If they stop using, they can enter into withdrawal that can be frightening and sometimes life-threatening.

"Although most alcoholics never get to the stage of delirium tremors, withdrawal is very painful and uncomfortable," Schnell said.

Schnell, a retired chemical dependence professor who has worked in the field since 1977, said that when people are faced with the choice of maintaining their addiction or going into withdrawal, they are left with two bad choices.

"For them, there is no choice at all, so they keep on using. It takes intervention from the outside - a boss who says, 'You will stop or I will fire you,' a police officer who says 'Stop or you'll go to jail,' or a spouse who says, 'Stop or I'll leave you.' The user will need some kind of help. The purpose of treatment is to stop and stay stopped."

Yet it is the psychological addiction that might be harder to handle. Said Schnell: "Their own brains will tell them it [the addiction] is nifty, but what they are really saying is the body is disposable. It's a process of education so they can discover they don't have to drink and have a good time."

"Your brain is telling you that you are doing great, when in reality you are living in hell," said Huth, who said he was a high school dropout who drank and used drugs. "It's not something I'm proud of, so I don't broadcast it."


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  • Alcohol Facts
  • Among fatally injured motor vehicle drivers in 2001, 32 percent had BACs at or above 0.08 percent. The percentage of fatally injured passenger vehicle drivers with BACs at or above 0.08 percent declined steadily from the 1980s, to the mid-1990s but has been about 33 percent since 1997.
  • An “average” beer has about 5% alcohol content, but beers can vary in alcohol content too. An “ice” beer has a higher content, some as high as 7% by volume and some of the light beers are much lower alcohol content.
  • More than 1 in 10 Americans aged 12 or older in 2001 (25.1 million persons) drove under the influence of alcohol at least once in the 12 months prior to the interview. Between 2000 and 2001, the rate of driving under the influence of alcohol increased from 10.0 to 11.1 percent. Among young adults aged 18 to 25 years, 22.8 percent drove under the influence of alcohol.
  • Adult drivers ages 35 and older who have been arrested for impaired driving are 11 to 12 times more likely than those who have never been arrested to die eventually in crashes involving alcohol.