Archive for December, 2013


Christmas is a very special time at St. Joseph Institute. We have been busy preparing for Christmas during the 25 days of Advent. We prepare ourselves spiritually by reviewing the origin and history of Christmas carols. Each morning we set aside a time of prayer and reflection that attunes our hearts and minds to the true message of Christmas by learning to appreciate the carols that have been created for this special season.

Jesse TreeEach evening when we gather to share the experience of our day we participate in an Advent Wreath Lighting Service that includes hanging an ornament on our Jesse Tree. The tradition of the Jesse Tree helps our residents better appreciate God’s plan of salvation by coming to know individual characters from the Old Testament. This collection of 25 characters and symbols, when read in a sequence, tells the story of the coming of Jesus as the Messiah. It demonstrates how the prophecies of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New Testament. These special Advent traditions help us prepare spiritually for Christmas.


Christmas Spirit

We also enjoy preparing our beautiful 62-acre campus by decorating for Christmas. Outdoors we hang wreaths and decorate bushes and trees with lights. Indoors we put up evergreen trees in the buildings and decorate them with lights and natural ornaments. Bald Eagle Hospitality House is our primary gather space. It has a 14 foot tree that reaches up toward the cathedral ceiling. Our stair rail is decorated with greenery and lights. We re-create an old fashioned Christmas by hanging a lighted wreath over our huge stone fireplace, and of course, “our stockings are hung by the chimney with care.” Many of our residents love our model train set. Watching the engine blow smoke and listening to the distinctive sound of the train whistle re-ignites treasured childhood memories of Christmas.

And of course, how could we truly experience the Christmas spirit unless our dogs share in the fun!

Christmas Dogs

ChapelAmid the festivities of the Holiday Season there are some important concerns that must not be ignored. When friends and family gather to celebrate and spend time together, alcohol and other mood altering substances are often found in abundance.  Too often the combination leads to tragic conclusions.

The numbers are both sobering and frightening.  It’s calculated that each year Americans get behind the wheel of their cars, impaired by drugs or alcohol, more than 156 million times.  They cause more than 700,000 injuries and a death every 30 minutes.  It time for us to start reversing this epidemic of irresponsible behavior.

We all need to take action.

  1. Appoint a designated driver.  Before you go out, decide who will be the driver.  That person must promise to abstain or use moderation, staying below the legal limit and assuming responsibility for a safe ride.
  2. Have a backup plan.  If the designated driver slips, have an alternative plan that ensures you are never in a car with an unsafe driver.
  3. Hide the keys.  If someone has been drinking or using, keep them off the road.  It’s better to have an angry friend than a dead one.
  4. Offer alternatives.  If you are the host, have appealing alternatives to drinking. And remember to have lots of food, as a full stomach slows the rate of alcohol absorption.
  5. Announce “last call” early.  Stop serving alcohol an hour or two before your guests leave.  Don’t let the effect of the last drink hit them as they are driving.
  6. Don’t blame only alcohol.  Drugs can impact driving ability as much as alcohol.  Marijuana, prescription meds, opiates and street drugs all have a devastating impact on driving skills.
  7. Report dangerous driving.  We all need to take responsibility for keeping our roads safe.  If you see a driver who seems impaired, keep a safe distance, and call 911.

For decades we have given lip service to the need to drive more responsibly, but our behavior has not reflected a significant improvement.  Let’s begin real change, and let it begin with us.

St. Joseph Institute for Addiction wishes you a safe and joy filled Christmas Season.

Addiction rehab in Florida may not be the best choice. 

Trouble In Paradise

As winter arrives in Pennsylvania, the “destination rehabs” in Florida crank up their marketing efforts. Sometimes families find it easier to convince someone to get help for a drug or alcohol problem if treatment sounds like a nice vacation. The sales pitch can be very tempting, and the photos on the Internet include lots of palm trees and wide beaches.

Unfortunately, the stories we hear at St. Joseph Institute and at other PA rehabs paint a different picture. Here’s a common story told by a mother from Pittsburgh.

“I was searching the Internet for rehabs in Western PA and called one of the facilities listed. The program sounded great, they said they took our insurance, and we were well into the admission process before they told us they were located in Florida. We flew my daughter down — and then the problems began. Housing was in a series of townhouses in busy neighborhoods, and the residents were bused to a center for the program. Our insurance only covered four days, and we had to self-pay almost $20,000. The individual counseling was minimal, and no effort was made to create an aftercare program.”

With far less regulation than exists in most other states, Florida has a growing number of rehab facilities, representing the “good, the bad, and the ugly” of addiction treatment. The lure of sunny skies can deflect attention from the most important question, “Is this the best program for me?” The hundreds of stories heard across the state each year encouraged us to share some reasons to be wary.

Identify to whom you are talking. The “destination” websites are made to look as if they are nearby and built to serve the people of Pennsylvania. Many Florida centers have websites in all 50 states and get top Google ranking as rehabs in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Cincinnati, or Buffalo. Only after they have your personal information, and the admission process has begun, do you realize that the location is a Florida city.

Accepting insurance is only the beginning. There is no pre-authorization for addiction treatment and many insurance companies are very reluctant to help the addict or alcoholic. Many plans have admission criteria that rule out people seeking treatment at the front door. Other insurance companies will approve a few days or a couple of weeks, but stop coverage before treatment is complete. Before you invest in a plane ticket, you need to know the “fine print” in your plan, and the experience a rehab facility has had working with an insurance plan like yours. A good facility will do its very best to ensure there are no “financial surprises.”

Get Act 106 protection. Pennsylvania has a unique law referred to as Act 106 that requires an insurance company to pay for a full treatment program based on a doctor’s recommendation. Each year this law ensures that thousands of people get the treatment they need – without fighting with their insurance company or facing a denied claim. Most out-of-state rehabs do not know how to use this legislation to ensure that their PA residents get the maximum support from their insurance plan.

Consider the need for family counseling. Relationship problems is one of the top three reasons for relapse. Many people need to start family counseling while in rehab and their families need to learn how to break the patterns of enabling and emotional dependency that are so often present with addiction. Because of the cost of family participation during treatment in Florida, this important aspect of is often overlooked.

Aftercare planning is critical. Recovery from addiction requires a strong aftercare program with lots of community support. Too often we have treated someone who relapsed after receiving treatment in Florida and found that aftercare was a missing piece. Recently a Florida rehab called me asking for help finding a counselor in Pittsburgh, stating that their directory did not list any. Suffice to say I was not filled with confidence by their knowledge or approach.

Don’t trust the pictures. Florida has some of the most exclusive rehabs in North America, but also some that are located in tired motels that could no longer attract tourists.  Make sure the pictures are real and the facility is of a standard that you find acceptable.

All rehabs are not the same. There are many different approaches to addiction treatment and you want to ensure that the program you select is right for you. If you will benefit from one-on-one counseling, make sure this is offered with the level of intensity you need. Many addiction rehab programs offer group therapy and individual counseling that amount to little more than a checking-in session. If you suffer from trauma, abuse, PTSD, anxiety, or depression, inquire as to whether there is expertise in this area, and whether the therapists have at least master’s level qualifications. Make sure you are comfortable with the spirituality or philosophy that underpins the program. We have had several transfers to our treatment center because people were uncomfortable in the Florida rehabs run by the Church of Scientology.

Addiction treatment can be expensive and may be critical to saving your life. Chose it carefully and do not be swayed by the false marketing techniques that populate the Internet. Remember that while Pennsylvania does not have palm trees and warm weather in February, it has some excellent treatment facilities and top addiction professionals. My advice: focus on getting well, overcoming your addiction, and establishing a strong recovery. Then reward yourself with a nice Florida vacation.