At City College, A Former Addict Now Helps Others

Michael Pawluk

For some addicts, the road to recovery can be long and arduous, with an ever-present danger of relapse. Some never make it. But every so often there's one who uses his experience to help others.

At 37, Jeremy is a recovering cocaine addict and alcoholic who has chosen to use his knowledge of the psychological effects of drugs and alcohol to help treat other addicts through a program at City College.

“I’ve had my own experience with drug and alcohol abuse, and one important part of my recovery is to help other people,” said the student, whose last name was withheld to protect his privacy. “I was a very heavy drinker and addicted to cocaine for almost 18 years before I got sober.”

In the summer of 2008, Jeremy was arrested and charged with felony possession of cocaine. A stipulation of his sentence required him to join alcohol and narcotic support groups. It was during this time he realized that he could use his experience to help others.

“I feel really lucky that I was arrested when I was because it made me realize that I needed to change my life before it ended,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is sit around thinking about your problems and not do anything about them until it’s too late.”

In late 2009, Jeremy enrolled in the drug and alcohol counseling program at City College in an effort to gain the skills to needed to help other like him who are looking to face their issues with substance abuse. The program is a two-year intensive study focused on severe alcohol and drug dependency, with an emphasis on urban care.

Easing the 'Trauma'
Students enrolled in the program are required to familiarize themselves with the mental, physical and social impacts that stem from substance abuse. However, for some students, the program offers a constructive outlet for dealing with a history of drug abuse.

“Our program is designed to educate individuals who wish to address the issues of drug and alcohol abuse and help to alleviate the physical and emotional trauma that comes from drug use,” said Program Director Tandy Iles. “We actually have a very comprehensive intern program that allows our students and counselors to get hands on training in different medical centers throughout the Bay Area.”

The Drug and Alcohol Studies Department was founded in 1998; Iles has been involved since its inception.

The course work teaches students a variety of methods for dealing with individual cases of drug abuse but the most prevalent form of care is a controversial method often referred to as harm reduction.

The system is intended to offer addicts a more pragmatic solution to their problem through moderation and control of their addiction over time unlike most 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, which emphasize abstinence as the best way to get clean.

Continued Risk
One example of harm reduction in practice is the San Francisco AIDS Foundation needle exchange program, which offers clean syringes to addicts in an attempt to curb the spread of disease. The CCSF program works closely with foundations such as these in order to familiarize their students with the issues surrounding addiction.

Though Jeremy has been sober for over two years, his work in the field of addiction comes with its occupational hazards. The proximity to active drug users and their drugs can cause the risk of a relapse, a serious concern for recovering addicts.

“I was been cautioned about being triggered in the field by patients, so it can be dangerous mixing your personal recovery while being a professional counselor,” said Jeremy. “One of the most important things to remember is not to preach to your patients. Real progress comes only from self diagnosis and working with the patient to find out what their goals are on the road to recovery.

"It’s our job to listen.”