Center ‘habilitates’ clients

WINNEBAGO – National Drug Facts Week has special meaning at the Adolescent Treatment Center in Winnebago. The clients have first-hand knowledge of the myths and facts about drugs.

“[The week] raises awareness, gives families and the community opportunity to talk honestly, and to provide accurate information,” said Naomi Ochsen-dorf, program director at the center.

The clients made a bulletin board highlighting the myths, countered with facts based on research. They also made poster boards with accurate information that Ochsendorf hopes will be displayed in area clinics.

The Adolescent Treatment Center has been helping kids cope with addiction for more than 30 years. A 24-bed residential facility, it offers chemical dependency treatment to those 12 to 18 years of age from across Minnesota.

Typically, they are there for using alcohol and marijuana, but “we’re seeing an increase in opiate use: painkillers, prescription drugs,” Ochsendorf said.

She had a one-word answer to explain the increase: accessibility.

Teens are getting drugs from their parents, grandparents or using their own or friends’ prescriptions.

Ochsendorf wants to help kids, but she would prefer they never have need of her facility. A big factor in that is family involvement in the kids’ lives.

“Provide structure,” Ochsendorf stressed. “Know their friends. Stay involved with their school. Know what’s all out there.”

She says to look for warning signs that a child is developing a problem with alcohol or drugs. Ochsendorf listed change in friends; change in attitude; increased oppositional behavior; changes in school performance; unexplained absences from school, home and family events; things that were important to them at one time and now aren’t; increased secrecy; missing money or items in the home; or an increase of things in their home, such as electronics, jewelry, money.

“Do they always seem to have money, even if they don’t have a job?” she asked.

Ochsendorf acknowledges teens are mercurial, and some of the symptoms described could be normal teenage moods.

“It’s hard to distinguish where is that line, but if a parent is involved, there’s a chance they can figure that out,” she said.

“Don’t assume it can’t happen to your kids,” Ochsendorf warned. “It doesn’t discriminate between jocks, nerds, loners. It can be any of them.”

Kids can check themselves into the Adolescent Treatment Center, but most won’t. Ochsendorf said many boys come in through the criminal justice system after they’ve gotten in trouble with the law; many girls are referred through mental health services because they have abuse issues, either in relationships or toward themselves.

Ochsendorf wouldn’t call the Adolescent Treatment Center a detox facility.

If the child requires medical services for withdrawal, “they would not be appropriate for our program,” she said.

“It’s not rehabilitation, it’s habilitation,” she said. “We teach them healthy coping skills. Not drinking or doing drugs is a better lifestyle than what they have been doing.”

The program helps teens with “increased stabilization with their emotional, behavioral and cognitive issues,” she said.

The youth have a structured schedule with chores, school and group sessions each day.

The program is based on the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which emphasizes the person has no control over the addiction and that “a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

“A lot of our assignments have a spiritual aspect, but not related to a specific God,” Ochsendorf said. “They can determine what that means.”

Treatment can be tailored to the child if needed, even down to the length of stay. The average stay is 40 days, Ochsendorf said, with some less and others longer.

The whole family is involved in the child’s treatment and, on average, Ochsendorf tries to have at least four family sessions during the child’s stay.

That is because it’s easy to stay off alcohol and drugs in the treatment center, but difficult when a child gets back into the environment that sparked the problem.

“Most relapse,” Ochsendorf said bluntly. “There’s no magic in those 40 days. This is a chronic disease, just like cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure. That part of the disease is episodes of relapse followed by periods of remission.”

How can success be measured?

“Look at all aspects of their lives,” Ochsendorf said, “in school, work, relationships improved, any new arrests.”

If kids do relapse, they don’t “fall as far as they did the first time,” Ochsendorf said. “They know there’s intervention so they seek it out sooner.”