The Drug Crisis: Can Therapeutic Recreation and Leisure Professionals Meet the Challenge?
By Pat O'Dea-Evans, SCAC/CTRA
Therapeutic recreation and leisure professionals can impact the drug and alcohol problems that face our state and nation in the 1990's. Recreation is viewed by addiction specialists as a viable alternative to substance abuse in Illinois; prevention activities focus on alcohol and drug education, as well as leisure alternatives.
Most persons, including addicted persons, begin drug and alcohol use during leisure. Substance use is most often partaken during unobligated time. Some recreational and social activities are done in conjunciton with alcohol and drug use.
Approximately one-third of all United States adults are considered moderate to heavy drinkers, one-third are abstainers and one-third are light drinkers. Alcohol use is associated with a wide variety of diseases, disorders and accidents. With 97,528 deaths attributable to alcohol use in 1980 alone, alcohol is our nation's most dangerous substance (Alcohol and Health, 1987).
In Illinois, yearly per capita consumption of pure alcohol has decreased from 3.00 gallons in 1980 to 2.77 gallons in 1984. Illinois is still consuming more than the national average of 2.65 gallons (Alcohol and Health, 1987). Drug use has also shown a decline, as public attitude toward drugs has impacted its decrease in use.
Therapeutic recreation and leisure professionals can assist substance abuse prevention efforts by implementing policy changes in their programs. Take a few minutes to review the "Drug Crisis Policy Test" included in this article and understand how your agency can make a few changes in policy to impact public attitudes.
Drug Crisis Policy Test
The following paragraphs list desirable responses and include a short discussion of the issues raised by each question.
1. NO, selling alcohol at your event increases your liability. Even more impactful is realizing that 10% of the persons in the United States consume 50% of all alcoholic beverages. By providing a substance-free event, the recovering community can become involved in a valuable leisure alternative. This also promotes healthy alternatives to substances. Light and moderate drinkers will not avoid the event just because alcohol is not served. By not providing alcohol you are really appealing to the majority.
2. NO, if a park district or health industry event is sponsored by a liquor company, a mixed message is sent to participants. Past Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in his final address called for an end of alcohol product sponsorship
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The Drug Crisis
of sports events and other programs where youths were involved (Professional Counselor, 1989).
3.YES, by promoting non-drinking teams or a sober league, persons who wish to be alcohol-free can become involved in your existing programs with very little change on your part.
4. NO, despite the liability issues, recreation areas can promote a substance-free environment.
5. YES, pre-teens and teens are in a high risk group. This is a point in their lives when they are defining their identity. Often substance use becomes their activity if there are no other leisure alternatives available.
6. YES, providing your staff with accurate and up-to-date information on the disease of addiction enhances the quality of services you provide to the community. It takes understanding the disease of addiction to foster a non-judgemental attitude regarding drug and alcohol use. It also supports community efforts to look at the "drug crisis" realistically.
7. YES, assisting family members to obtain help when they are in crisis is the human approach. If someone participating in your program had a heart attack would you call the paramedics and begin CPR? The disease of addiction is life threatening and can often be addressed only when someone confronts the problem.
8. YES, realistic consequences for alcohol and drug related behaviors has been known to help addicted persons face up to the reality that their use is problematic. This can be instrumental in their seeking help for their addiction.
9. YES, more than one in ten persons develops the disease of addiction. This can happen to anyone regardless of social standing, financial resources, race or educational level. Requiring health insurance is one way to maximize your staffs ability to pay for treatment if needed.
10. YES, children of addicts are the highest risk group for becoming addicts themselves (they also represent one in every four children). Children need to play, yet children of addicts are often just trying to survive. Many of these children are already part of your program. Leisure professionals can be instrumental in identifying high risk youth and providing services directed toward their needs.
11. YES, treatment providers in your community are willing to share accurate information about addiction. By co-sponsoring substance free events, such as the Sober-lympics, therapeutic recreation professionals are able to increase the community's awareness of recreation as a substance-free alternative during leisure time.
Tackling the "drug crisis" is not up to the government or someone else. Each community must get involved in national efforts to reduce this problem.
Therapeutic recreation professionals have started an effort in Illinois to increase the utilization of therapeutic recreation and fitness within substance abuse treatment settings. Part of this effort has involved promoting and producing Sober-lympics as an annual event starting in 1988.
Leisure professionals can promote substance-free programs by changing a few policies within their existing events. This article does not contain all the answers to impacting the drug crisis but is intended to highlight some of the major issues. To obtain specific information on various issues contact:
Therapeutic Recreators for Recovery and Sober-lympics
Children of Addicts Programming Northwestern Memorial Hospital
Treatment Intervention/Assessment Addiction Recovery of Chicago
Alcohol and Drug Information