"Alcoholism actually is a disease," said Kristina Hannon, Vice President of Behavioral Healthcare at Family Guidance. "Alcoholism as a disease is not a choice behavior. People don't choose to be addicted, people don't choose to abuse alcohol on a routine basis."
Most clients at Family Guidance enter through the court system, having been sent for treatment as part of their sentence after being convicted of a crime.
"It's not just going to a doctor's office and getting a prescription every 30 days," Hannon said. "We recognize, as a disease, alcoholism is influenced by genetic factors, environmental factors and psychosocial factors."
A challenge of going through treatment for alcoholism is that there often is a stigma associated with the disease compared to other ailments.
"A lot of times people feel ostracized by their families or they don't want their friends or coworkers to know that they're getting treated for alcoholism," Hannon said. "Even when they present for treatment, they might not believe it's a true disease or it might be a choice or they hear it from their families."
But experts agree the key to alcoholism prevention is getting to kids early. The average age of first alcohol use in Buchanan County is 12 years old.
"The younger you start drinking, the higher likelihood you are to develop an alcohol abuse problem," Hannon said.
"I don't think it is that parents don't care, I just don't think we're educating and talking to their kids early enough," said Angela Reynolds, from St. Joseph Youth Alliance. "You've heard, early education is the best model."
And part of the problem is that alcoholism runs in the family.
"That's one of the things we talk about, to try and educate parents about that so they know their family history and to make sure kids know that it runs in their family and know what it can cause for them personally," said Robin Hammond, Executive Director of the Youth Alliance.
Family Guidance extimates the 1,800 clients they see per year may only be one-quarter of those locally who need help with alcohol abuse.
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