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Alcohol: A clear and present danger

The three top drugs of Jefferson County are alcohol, marijuana and methamphetamine, but the No. 1 drug problem is alcohol.

"If you look at the number of people affected negatively by alcohol, the impact is greater than all the other drugs put together," said Jerry Schnell, the former director of Seattle University Addictions Studies and now a Port Townsend resident. "Alcohol is a more dangerous drug than marijuana or methamphetamine."

The retired professor was speaking at the Jefferson County Substance Abuse Advisory Board conference on the three most prevalent drugs in Jefferson County. Titled "A Clear and Present Danger: Our Community Responds," the Tuesday, April 29 conference brought together experts including Schnell, treatment specialists Steven Freng and Ford Kessler, and Katherine Carlson, an anthropology expert who analyzes substance abuse statistics for Washington state.

"Drugs are making war on us and society," said Mark Huth, District Court judge. "They are a growing problem, and they continue to grow unless the community begins to address it now."


Drug addiction can be a long, slow slide. If people start using drugs such as alcohol, they can, over time, start abusing that drug, developing psychological and physiological addictions, explained Schnell. For those who develop a physiological addiction, they acquire a tolerance and then a dependence. If they stop using, they can enter into withdrawal that can be frightening and sometimes life-threatening.

"Although most alcoholics never get to the stage of delirium tremors, withdrawal is very painful and uncomfortable," Schnell said.

Schnell, a retired chemical dependence professor who has worked in the field since 1977, said that when people are faced with the choice of maintaining their addiction or going into withdrawal, they are left with two bad choices.

"For them, there is no choice at all, so they keep on using. It takes intervention from the outside - a boss who says, 'You will stop or I will fire you,' a police officer who says 'Stop or you'll go to jail,' or a spouse who says, 'Stop or I'll leave you.' The user will need some kind of help. The purpose of treatment is to stop and stay stopped."

Yet it is the psychological addiction that might be harder to handle. Said Schnell: "Their own brains will tell them it [the addiction] is nifty, but what they are really saying is the body is disposable. It's a process of education so they can discover they don't have to drink and have a good time."

"Your brain is telling you that you are doing great, when in reality you are living in hell," said Huth, who said he was a high school dropout who drank and used drugs. "It's not something I'm proud of, so I don't broadcast it."

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  • Alcohol Facts
  • Early heavy drinking and drug use is associated with increases in adolescent behaviour problems, truancy, poor scholastic attainment, poor social integration and increased adolescent delinquency.
  • Alcohol is a nervous system depressant.
  • Full-blown FAS (fetal alcohol syndrome) occurs in an estimated one out of every 750 live births.
  • Alcohol-related crashes killed 2,206 youth in 1995, reflecting 36 percent of the total traffic fatalities for the age group.