For nearly four decades, Río Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program has been the first stop on the way to recovery for Norteños struggling with addictions to alcohol and/or drugs. However, ask most Taoseños about Río Grande ATP, and you will get a quizzical look.
That’s because the staff at the 38-year-old out-patient program know they do their best work under the radar in the security, safety and privacy of the program’s unassuming offices on Cruz Alta Road.
“We have an 80 percent success rate for first-timers, something we are proud of,” said Executive Director Beth Scott. “But we do recognize that it’s unlikely we will ever run out of clients, because addiction is a disease, not a lack of willpower; it causes changes in how your brain works.”
Since 1978, most anyone who has adversely affected others because of substance abuse has been referred to Río Grande ATP for a way out of the cycle of substance abuse. Funding comes primarily from state and Medicaid sources. Referrals come from the courts, either after conviction or for pre-trial assessment or other nonprofits, such as Community Against Violence (CAV), Tri-Country Community Services and the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department.
Group sessions form the backbone of recovery at Río Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program. Following a thorough assessment session that can take about four hours, clients enter into group therapy — a long-standing and effective method of recovery. Throughout the week, groups of up to 15 convene for three hours to talk about their addictions, like friends. Counselors get them to describe how they feel in those situations.
“While we recognize that relapsing is part of recovery, we try to get people to talk about those situations in group sessions so that they can work toward avoiding them,” she said.
When Río Grande ATP started in the late 1970s, alcohol was the dominant substance that its clients abused. Nowadays, there’s also a whole array of drugs readily available to people in personal pain, Scott said.
Heroin and associated opioid prescription drugs are now the most common addictive substances for those in Río Grande ATP sessions. They are readily available and relatively inexpensive, and dependence upon them can occur quickly. Other common drugs include crystal meth and cocaine, but all of them are usually accompanied by an addiction to alcohol.
“All of them go right to the pleasure centers of the brain, and a person feels like the pain of his or her personal life just goes away,” Scott said.
Río Grande ATP counselors stay up to date on the latest trends in addiction therapy. Once discouraged, emergency “harm-reduction” drugs like Suboxone are now more accepted in the addiction therapy field.
“One trend is that we are moving away from requiring people to go off drugs ‘cold turkey’ and more toward medication-assisted treatments,” the executive director said. “Yes, they are controversial, and we are in the process of figuring out our policies in that direction. But group therapy remains our primary focus.”
Down the road, Río Grande ATP would like to add life skills and job skills classes to bolster its programs in after-care and long-term recovery. And, the nonprofit is lobbying hard to reopen a detox center in Taos.
But it’s the day-to-day challenges and successes that keep Scott and the staff at Río Grande ATP going.
“It feels good at the end of the day when success happens,” Scott said. “It’s tough to see the ups and downs, but seeing someone conquer their addiction and return to a good and healthy life, it just is so great for all of us here, but especially for the person who has done the work.”
Río Grande Alcoholism Treatment Program
224 Cruz Alta Road, Suite J
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