April was Alcohol Awareness Month, and our schools, police, Health and Human Services Department, YMCA, New Canaan Cares, and the press have done a great job of highlighting and addressing the dangers and needs of our children regarding substance abuse prevention.

But what about the adults of our town, the people who set the example for our children to follow, the people from whom our children learn about alcohol and drug use? I learned about drinking from my father starting when I was 14; he died of alcoholism at age 57. Watching him die motivated me to seek help for myself 31 years ago when I was 36.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 11.6 percent of our adult U.S. population of 210 million, or some 24 million, are addicts. If we apply that statistic to New Canaan with an adult population of approximately 13,500, we find that statistically some 1,550 members of our town are full-blown addicts and are "at risk;" 155 are on the brink of becoming dysfunctional and 1 of every 10 of these are in "crisis." Every addict impacts a minimum of four other individuals whether within their family, the workplace or the community. So, more than 50 percent of our community members are impacted either directly or indirectly by substance abuse.

What are we doing about this segment of our population? The answer is usually nothing until the "crisis" becomes so acute that physical harm or financial ruin is imminent or has occurred. The answer as to why there is so little action being taken can stem from many factors, including personal discomfort about approaching the individual, lack of experience identifying addiction, fear of public ridicule and stigmatization, lack of information about treatment options, or a belief that there is little prospect for success.

There are answers, innovative strategies that truly can make a difference. They are not quick and they don't fall into any one-size-fits-all category. They require a commitment of time and energy. Substance abuse and addiction are multi-faceted problems, for the abuser, the family, the community and the workplace. By the end of 2010, the nation's total cost for social problems caused or aggravated by substance abuse and addiction had hit $1 trillion.

So let the "April is Alcohol/Drug Awareness Month" be not just a wake up call for our children, but also a wake up call to those adults whose drinking is causing harm to themselves, their families and others, and to those adults who are in a position to do something about it. Interventions, treatment programs, trained professionals, AA, Al-Anon and a myriad of other support elements are available to those who want, need and are willing to ask for and accept the help.

Addiction cannot be ignored indefinitely. We do ourselves, our families -- especially our children -- and our community an important service by becoming proactive in identifying substance abuse, and by seeing that afflicted individuals receive the help they need and deserve.

Robert Curry is the director of the New Canaan Healthy Families Programs, and president of Turning Point for Leaders -- an addiction treatment organization.

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