Addiction is a word that's lost its punch.
It describes our fondness for favorite TV shows, our weakness for desserts - it's our terminology for anything pleasurable enough to be a temptation.
But with the impending loss of Colorado Springs' only detox program and a recession that's predicted to cut resources for treatment while pushing more people into addiction, substance-abuse experts believe there's a need to re-emphasize that true addiction is a public health problem, not a clever catchphrase.
"It's easy at this point for the general community to look at addiction and to kind of shrug off the seriousness of it because it is so talked about," said Michael McKelvey, who runs the Peak Addiction Recovery Center, one of the region's only inpatient rehabilitation centers focused exclusively on sobriety. "My concern is, it's a disease - it's a diagnosed illness that statistically will kill you if you don't treat it."
Yet, treatment options in the Colorado Springs area are dwindling. This week Peak Addiction found out it's losing its main source of funding, a $60,000-a-month federal grant to treat alcoholics and addicts 25 years old and younger. McKelvey said the 16-bed center will stay open but will have to shift gears to serve more private-paying and insured clients.
"It's awful. It's a horrible impact. To our community, that's a devastating loss," he said.
"Typically, people who really need help don't have money or insurance - and now, not a lot of community options."
That comes on top of two other recent announcements regarding cutbacks:
• Pikes Peak Mental Health announced a few weeks ago that it will close the 28-bed detox center The Lighthouse by the end of January because of funding deficiencies. Community organizations are scrambling to replace it but warn that any new program will likely be bare bones - perhaps just a set of beds where people can sleep off their intoxication safely.
• The Salvation Army reported earlier this month that because of funding issues, it will have to downsize its Adult Rehabilitation Center, which provides free residential drug and alcohol rehabilitation services. Capacity will be cut from 65 beds to 30.
The cuts hit a system that local homeless advocates and substance-abuse experts say was already insufficient. They acknowledge that effective, comprehensive treatment can be costly, but argue that research shows it's cheaper than the cost of not treating addicts when you factor in prison recidivism, crime, health care and social services. Still, that argument doesn't tend to go far in public policy.
"No one ever got elected on a ‘more treatment' platform," said David Friedman, co-founder and director of an addiction studies program for journalists and associate dean of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
The world of alcohol and drug addiction is complex, scientifically and socially.
Researchers continue to find hard evidence about how drugs and alcohol reshape the chemistry and structure of the brain, while treatment providers continually encounter stigmas and stereotypes as they make the case for services.
Take relapse. It is often treated as a sign of failure, even though providers say that's not the case. They compare addiction to chronic diseases such as diabetes or heart disease, where long-term maintenance might include a setback or two along the way.
Additionally, the poor choices that often lead to addiction, and the ugly impact it has, tend to make it a less sympathetic condition with the public than a physical malady such as diabetes.