Opioid addiction and overdose has become a national public health crisis. Nearly a third of people who are prescribed opioids for pain don’t use them as directed, leading many to develop an opioid use disorder. Every day, more than 130 people die in the United States from an overdose. Drug overdose deaths rose so quickly in 2017 that it drove down the average life expectancy of Americans. In fact, drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental deaths in the United States—even more common than car accidents.
Yet, while the White House has declared a public health emergency and the news has covered the legal and logistical considerations, public health professionals are battling this war against drugs on a more personal level, one client at a time.
Professional counselors help addicts understand the nature addiction, identify their personal triggers, and help them modify the thoughts, beliefs, and actions that feed their addictive behavior. Understanding what drives an individual’s addiction is crucial for finding the mix of approaches and interventions that will lead to a successful recovery and counselors need a broad base of assessment and counseling skills to meet those needs. Counselors also need to address underlying issues in a client’s environment including their immediate family.
After all, drug addiction affects more than the individual. It affects whole families, and the ripple effects are devastating.
Families often find it difficult to heal because of the stigma associated with addiction. “I think what’s really important is in a way give permission to the family to talk about it and to seek help,” says Genevieve Weber, Associate Professor of Counseling and Mental Health Professions, Hofstra University. “It’s often kept secret because the family is feeling shame and parents might be feeling guilt. [They wonder] is it something that they’ve done?”
Making a difference to families, helping them heal after traumatic events, is part of why professor Weber teaches about substance abuse. Weber knows first-hand how healing counseling can be. “Not only do I teach this topic as a professor at Hofstra, and have worked clinically with this population for many years, but I have suffered my own personal loss. My brother passed away from a heroin overdose.”
A holistic approach to recovery underpins Hofstra’s approach to teaching counseling. Students are taught how to work successfully with individuals, families, and groups in a variety of settings focusing on mental health, substance abuse, and alcohol and drug counseling.