|Dr. Usha Tandon, Medical Director of the Chemical Dependency Program at Elmhurst Hospital.|
Ruben U. began drinking alcohol as a teenager with his friends. The 42-year-old diabetic said alcohol never affected his work, but it did affect his health and at times, his relationship with his family. An arrest a few months ago for driving while under the influence of alcohol finally propelled him to seek help for his addiction at one of HHC’s programs for the treatment of chemical dependency.
After undergoing a comprehensive evaluation including a physical and mental health exam at Elmhurst Hospital Center in Queens, Ruben U. has settled into a schedule of individual counseling once a week and group counseling three times a week. He has been sober for three months.
“I thank God I am getting a second chance. I want to stay sober,” said the man, who has three children and whose last name is not used to protect his privacy.
A recent report from the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene found that the number of alcohol related trips to emergency rooms is up among New Yorkers of all ages—adults ages 21 to 64 and underage drinkers ages 12 to 20. In 2009, there were at least 70,000 alcohol-related visits to the emergency department, according to the report.
“Many of the patients we care for drink to get rid of depression, anxiety, loneliness,” said Dr. Usha Tandon, a psychiatrist and Medical Director of the Chemical Dependency Program at Elmhurst Hospital. “Young people drink because of curiosity, peer pressure or conflicts with their parents. Adults who have been social drinkers will start drinking heavily when faced with a crisis such as job loss, divorce, or a loss in the family,” she said.
In more complex cases involving mental illness, people are drinking to get rid of delusions, she said. Genetics also plays a role in alcoholism, since if both parents are alcoholic the child is much more likely to be as well.
Elmhurst is one of several HHC facilities with multidisciplinary programs for the treatment of alcoholism and substance use disorders. In 2010, HHC’s chemical dependency programs included eight detox units with 148 beds which generated 9,351 discharges; 5 opioid treatment programs which served 2,363 individuals; 14 outpatient programs serving 4,737 individuals; and two halfway houses with 59 beds.
"Substance abuse patients are at high risk for medical complications such as liver disease, gastritis, pancreatitis, peripheral neuropathy, and poor nutrition. They tend to have weakened immune systems and are more susceptible to infectious diseases such as hepatitis and tuberculosis”, Dr. Tandon said. “That’s why our patients are seen by internists and referred to appropriate specialties to ensure their medical needs are met.”
Patients in HHC chemical dependency programs receive individual, group and family counseling, and educational, career and vocational services. Counseling groups meet during the day and in the evening, in English and Spanish. There are services for women, men, adolescents, older adults, people living with HIV/AIDS, and people on parole or probation. It’s important to get help, Dr. Tandon said. “To anyone who is suffering from alcohol or drug use, I would say: There is help. There is treatment. There is hope.” HHC provides chemical dependency treatment programs in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens. For more information visit www.nyc.gov/hhc.