May 2015 Issue
April 29, 2015

Rise in drug alcohol abuse fuels more cries for help

Author: By Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT United

Addictions mess not only with the addict or alcoholic, but with spouses, parents, sib­lings and children. They are an equal opportunity destroyer.

When a parent has an active addiction, children suffer acutely. "It affects their core beliefs about security and safety," said Brian Freidenberg, University at Albany clinical psychologist and addiction behavior specialist. He is a member of United University Professions, NYSUT's higher education affiliate at SUNY.

Spouses worry about finances as dollars go to drugs or booze. A job may be in jeopardy. Typically, a spouse is embarrassed and can be­come secretive.

Families also struggle when a son or daughter is abusing alco­hol or drugs. Confusion, fear and helplessness reign. In this culture, Freidenberg said, people often blame the parents, even when they are try­ing hard to help. Parents and siblings sometimes blame themselves.

"There's great shame that comes with it," he said.

Of the 100--150 cases handled every month by NYSUT Social Services, about 15 percent are about substance abuse issues, said Scott Hicks, a recently retired social worker with the union's Social Services department. The services are free to NYSUT members and/or their families.

The dramatic impact of the rise in heroin use has wreaked havoc on many families. Anonymous surveys about drug use on campus now in­clude questions about heroin for the first time, Freidenberg said.

Freidenberg also believes use and abuse of marijuana will rise with its legalization. New York legalized medical marijuana last year.

"My concerns include driving while ability impaired," said Freidenberg, who makes classroom presentations about substance abuse. Marijuana, he said, "causes
tremendous anxiety when a person tries to quit."

Synthetic marijuana is known to cause psychosis and even death. Often, the chaos addictions bring into the family unit is not discussed, so other family members learn not to trust their own perceptions. Parental conflict over the abuse can distract a mom or dad from providing emotional support to children needing comfort and security, and the child might then turn to unhealthy people for support, said Friedenburg, who presented information about addiction to school health care professionals at a NYSUT forum. These children may exhibit depression, anxiety, self harm, suicidal thoughts or poor impulse control.

The heroin epidemic is heightening. "Heroin is huge. I'd say it's the No. 1 topic right now. People coming off opiate abuse want a stronger high, or they can't get pills as easily," said Lee Livern, public education coordinator for the SUNY Upstate Medical Center Poison Center and a UUP member.

Heroin is "highly addictive very rapidly. It's in all of our communities. It's cheap and plentiful," he said.

In 2014, New York state-certified treatment programs for heroin and prescription opioid abuse saw more than 118,000 admissions — a 17.8 percent increase over 2009, according to the state's Office of Children and Family Services. The largest increase in opioid admissions during that time was patients ages 18 to 34.

The federal Drug Enforcement Agency says a heroin distribution center exists in every major city in the United States as well as in Canada.

A statewide campaign of public service announcements, a new website, online ads, social media and print materials kicked off last June after state legislation was passed to target people who have suffered consequences of opioid and heroin use. Resources include communication tools for schools about the campaign, flagging the risks and warning signs.

When a call comes in to NYSUT Social Services, Ani Shahinian, a social worker employed by NYSUT,determines the core problems. She researches appropriate services, based on health insurance, geographic location, and inside knowledge about the credibility of a treatment program or therapist. She may tap programs such as the Long Island Council on Alcoholism or the Physicians Committee for Health in New York City, other experts in the field or a resource database. These tools are supplemented by conversation and site visits.

"A lot of college-age kids are struggling with addiction or alcohol abuse," Shahinian said. "They're so angry and scared." Even if they refuse treatment, Shahinian refers the mother and father to counseling for guidance.

Sometimes the person abusing drugs or alcohol may resist going into a treatment program, but can be directed to a therapist who can establish a rapport and move them to the next level, Hicks said. "That may be more important than trying to jam them into an intensive program three times a week that's 25 miles away and they're not going to get to it."

Fear of being discovered keeps some people from seeking help, even if their family is in great distress. They do not want others to know they have a problem, or that their spouse or child has a problem endangering their life.

"They may not go (seek help) if it's a small town and they're a teacher," said Shahinian. "There is still a tremendous amount of stigma and bias ... Sometimes the first time somebody talks about an issue is with us. There's something about us being anonymous. I consider ourselves a bridge to getting them the help they need," she said.


Members can contact NYSUT Social Services at 800-342-9810, ext. 6206 or email All contact is confidential.

Family members of someone abusing alcohol or drugs can visit– to find local support groups. Call 888-4AL–ANON (425–2666) 8 a.m. – 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, for meetings, or 757-563–1600 for free materials.


Call 1-877-8-HOPENY or visit and click on resources for posters, fliers, fact sheets, medicine cabinet inventories, prescription safety information or links to the Department of Health, the National Institute of Drug Abuse, or the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration.

Visit, or