Pubdate: Tue, 10 Jan 2006
Source: Asheville Citizen-Times (NC)

Copyright: 2006 Asheville Citizen-Times
Author: Leslie Boyd


ASHEVILLE -- Gerald Cowan knew his life was out of control. He was 
living in a run-down motel, unable to pay the rent and lying to the 
landlord about when he would have the money.

That was just more than a year ago, before Cowan embarked on a new, sober life.

"I was tired of living the way I was living," said, Cowan, 48, a 
resident of A Vet's Place at the Asheville-Buncombe Community 
Christian Ministry Men's Shelter. "I was working for a beer 
distributor, drinking on the job, drinking off the job."

His life was a trail of failed relationships and broken dreams.

"I guess I got started when I was in junior high school, hanging out 
with a group of older kids who drank," Cowan said. "I figured, what the heck."

Cowan followed a path that's common among people with addiction: He 
started young and went from using one drug -- alcohol -- to using 
others. He went through substance abuse treatment three times before 
he was able to stop using.

Until now, North Carolina has offered limited help to people addicted 
to alcohol or other drugs, but new Medicaid services, announced last 
week, will expand options for those people, although it won't mean an 
increase in the amount of money spent on treatment.

"We know we're going to have a lot more people out there who need 
services than we have the money   to provide," said Michael Moseley, 
director of the N.C. Division of Mental Health, Developmental 
Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services. "What we can do is offer a 
more flexible treatment plan so that people get what they need."

The numbers

Between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, nearly 71,000 people were 
treated for substance abuse in state hospitals and programs, said 
Mark Van Sciver, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Health and 
Human Services.

"Those numbers are trending up," Van Sciver said.

Recently, the annual Monitoring the Future study by the National 
Institute on Alcohol Abuse found some encouraging news: Past-year use 
of alcohol was down 2.7 percent among eighth-graders; down 1.5 
percent among 10th-graders; and down 2.1 percent among 12th-graders.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 
people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to 
develop alcoholism than those who begin at 21. Cowan was one of the 
unlucky ones.

Young people who drink alcohol are 7.5 times more likely to use 
illicit drugs and 50 times more likely to use cocaine than young 
people who never drink alcohol, according to the National Center on 
Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. Cowan followed 
that path, too.

 From high school on

Cowan graduated high school in Salisbury and joined the Army. He was 
caught selling marijuana and was given the choice of dishonorable 
discharge or nine weeks in a retraining brigade ("like basic but a 
lot tougher"). He chose the retraining, finished his three-year 
enlistment, then stayed on for another 15 years in the reserves.

"I kept partying, though," he said.

Through the rest of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, he mostly 
used alcohol, but then he was introduced to cocaine.

"I used powder, I used crack -- I used just about everything there 
was to use at some time or other," he said.

He lost his job with the Veterans Administration, technically for not 
following procedure, but he said it really was because of his drug use.

Cowan shrugged it off, withdrew all his retirement money and "had a big party."

The money didn't last long.

In 1987, he went to drug treatment in Atlanta to try and keep a job, 
but began using again soon after he was out.

"I went to rehab again in '97 to please my mama," he said.

That attempt at recovery didn't last long, either.

By 2000, his three children, his fiancee and his three sisters had 
given up on him, Cowan said. His mother died in 2003 still believing 
he would straighten his life out one day even though there was no 
evidence then that he would.

Finding recovery

Brack Jefferys, executive director of Substance Abuse Solutions of 
N.C. in Asheville, has worked with addicts for 22 years. He did not 
treat Cowan, but was willing to talk about addiction in general.

"People have to have a moment of clarity, where they are able to see 
the truth about their situation with drugs and become willing to take 
responsible action to recover," Jefferys said.

Addicts have to hit bottom, in other words, and bottom is a different 
place for each person. Some people realize the substance they're 
using has control over them when they get a first conviction for 
drunken driving. Others have to lose everything before they seek 
help. Some die before they are able to stop.

Addicts have to face change in every aspect of life. Cowan moved away 
from all his drinking buddies and into A Vet's Place after treatment.

"People trust me now," Cowan said. "The work was worth it to be trusted again."

Sam Everett, director of the ABCCM Men's Shelter, praises the work 
Cowan has done to rebuild his life.

"He's done well," Everett said. "He's just one of the finest guys."

At ABCCM Cowan sorts mail, does filing and drives the van to get 
people to work and doctor's appointments. He has a job at Arvin 
Meritor, and he has a car, given to him through ABCCM by his sister.

But sobriety requires vigilance, Cowan said. He's almost ready to 
take the next step -- moving out of A Vet's Place and into his own 
home so his children, now 28, 25 and 22, can visit.

"I'm a little worried," he said. "You know, people here would know if 
I took a beer, but if I'm in my own place, I don't know, I might talk 
myself into thinking one beer would be OK and who'd know?"

But he feels stronger in his recovery every day, and he knows he can 
only take one day at a time.

"I got a peace of mind now," he said. "I'm not looking over my 
shoulder. I feel like a human being again."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth Wehrman