Facing the Real World Challenges of Substance Abuse

Sarah had hit rock bottom. She was 31 years old and had been charged with her second DUI. A mother of two and engaged to be married, she was separated from her family and spent 20 days in jail before entering treatment.

“I went into treatment May 31, 2011,” Sarah said. “I was thinking of that last night as my last hoorah. Hoorah it wasn’t. I was given the breathalyzer when I got there and went straight to detox for two days before even starting the program.”

Sarah, who has alcoholism on both sides of her family received treatment from Campus for Hope, a program of Catholic Charities of Omaha. The program provided her with a sense of support for all that she was going through.

“I didn’t ask for this addiction, I deal with it and work on it every day,” she said. “It does become easier though, and I have Campus for Hope to thank for that.

“I met people that were in the same boat I was, and I realized I wasn’t an outcast. I believe this was a God thing. I am still friends with many of the people from the program almost a year later.”

Criminal consequences

In addition to the physical and emotional challenges of substance abuse, young adults who have been arrested for crimes related to their abuse face difficulties finding a job.

“Felony charges make it nearly impossible for young adults to find employment,” said Catherine Terpstra, MA LLPC and substance abuse therapist at Cristo Rey Behavioral Health and Prevention Services, a Catholic Charities agency in Lansing, Michigan. “Some of the only jobs those with criminal records can find are in factories.”

Therefore, as part of their relapse prevention services, Cristo Rey provides assistance to young adults who are looking for employment or who need to improve their skills for future employment.

“Due to various laws governing many areas of health care, banking, education, transportation, finance, government, military, law enforcement, and others, a criminal record (I’m not speaking about a traffic ticket) prohibit or ‘strongly discourage’ the employer from hiring that person — even if they are exceedingly qualified,” said Martin Masar, executive director of CBR YouthConnect, an adolescent psychiatric residential treatment facility in southeastern Colorado, serving about 80 young adults each year. “Combine that with the jobless rate in America and the ‘cards’ are now stacked against you.

“Substance usage might increase the likelihood of a criminal act, if that person also was sufficiently depressed, had a low self-image, was abused, came from a violent home, to name a few,” he said. Masar said that statistics show a high percentage of criminal acts like burglary, purse snatching, and shoplifting occur while a person is under the influence.
“Acts of personal violence like rape, fighting, and gang violence tend to be committed out of anger. However, alcohol, which can lower inhibitions, may in fact increase the tendency for anger, and thus increase the potential for an act of personal violence,” Masar said. “The data seems to support this — that substance abuse tends to have a deleterious effect on anger, low self-esteem, depression, aggression, psychosis, inhibitions, or other self-defeating character traits, which can increase the potential for criminal acts.”

Masar also believes young adults with substance abuse problems may be treated worse in the criminal justice system.

“The judge may view the substance abuse as an act of defiance and a disobedient choice on behalf of the person,” he said.

Focus on a loving God

While the criminal justice system hands out sentences that punish a particular crime, human service agencies focus on how they might prevent substance abuse and related crimes from ever occurring or happening again.

Sue Lewis, executive director of Catholic Charities in Jackson, Michigan, said her organization has started working with area schools on substance abuse prevention, specifically targeting vulnerable teens. Lewis said that in addition to a family history of substance abuse, teens may also face abuse and self-esteem issues.

“If teens are 14 or older they can seek help on their own without parental permission up to 12 visits. Faith and spirituality plays a big role in recovery,” she said. “We treat everyone with dignity and respect and go above and beyond in trying to help young adults.”

Martin Masar said his agency focuses on forgiveness, hope, belief, and love when working with young adults. And he says that young adults respond by developing or renewing their own personal spiritual understandings.

“We do not focus on God as punitive, retaliatory, and demanding,” Masar said. “People in distress already have enough of this in their lives. Certainly, they need to believe there is hope and forgiveness and happiness and when the road gets rough have faith,” he said. “The faith they seek is inside — it is the belief in themselves. And then, learning to let go and let God.”

Sarah learned a similar lesson through prayer when she was at Campus of Hope: “I was scared the first few days and missed my family incredibly. I prayed all of the time and by my second week it became easier. I want to go back to Campus for Hope and be a speaker for people who are in the same place I was.”