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Chappaqua Treatment Center Helps Clients Ascend Mountain of Hope

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By Michael Gold

For people suffering from substance use disorder, Jana Wu wants to tell them, “You are worth living the life you want.”

Wu, a licensed clinical social worker, licensed alcohol and drug counselor and program manager at Mountainside Treatment Center in Chappaqua, is dedicated to helping people change their lives.

Mountainside welcomes clients from Westchester, mostly, but also Greenwich, Manhattan and even Brooklyn, about 50 to 60 people on average a month. About 65 percent of the clients consist of men.

“There are barriers to women getting treatment,” Wu said. “They have childcare and household management issues. Many of them are working. Also, women struggle with cultural and societal expectations.”

The people she sees are “overwhelmed and demoralized with their use,” Wu said. “A lot of people are feeling regret and shame about their behaviors.”

Alcohol, marijuana and prescription drug misuse disorders are the most common among Mountainside clients, Wu stated.

“Clients are drinking a lot at home,” she explained. “They’re hiding bottles in shoeboxes or ceiling panels. They’re lying about what they’re doing. One person kept a spreadsheet of all their lies.”

“Most of our clients are well-dressed and highly educated,” Wu said. “They’re intellectual and smart, but they can’t manage their drinking.”

Wu describes alcohol use as “slow and painful. It’s mentally exhausting.” Some clients are stay-at-home mothers who hide their drinking from other family members.

“The way they feel inside is horrible,” Wu explained.

Concerning marijuana, to clients, “it’s fun at first, they enjoy it. Then they’re smoking it throughout the day, in a way that’s causing problems for them with work or relationships and they’re getting irritable when they don’t have it. They have trouble keeping their jobs. A lot of these kids are college graduates.”

Some clients are consuming edible cannabis products, such as gummies and cookies. An internet search of cannabis edibles found the drug being sold in everything from chocolate bars, peanut butter cups and cinnamon mints to popcorn, soda and cold brew coffee.

“Cannabis kills their motivation and organization,” Wu said.

Wu identified factors that contribute to substance use disorder, including trauma, anxiety and depression, even the use of technology.

Relationships can contribute to trauma. Various difficult situations, such as someone in the family suffering an accident, parents struggling to connect with their children, kids not fitting in at school or living with a parent struggling with alcohol or prescription drugs in the past or present can all lay the groundwork for substance use disorder.

“Many of our clients have lost friends or family members to substance abuse,” Wu said.

Concerning computers and phones, Wu explained that when we’re on our screens, “we’re not moving enough. The use of technology keeps people enervated. We’re not that much in our bodies. We need to be present for ourselves and others.”

During the three-hour group sessions at Mountainside, Wu and the other counselors start with what she calls a mindful moment, typically with about 12 clients, which might last 15 minutes. The clients are asked to relax their bodies and work to be present in the here and now. The counselors ask questions about how the participants in the group are feeling physically, mentally and spiritually.

They then discuss if they are going to be exposed to high-risk situations soon, where others might be consuming alcohol or drugs, such as at a party. Another trigger for substance use is seeing a parent or family member intoxicated at home.

“About 50 percent of our clients have family members with substance use disorders,” Wu said.

Mountainside provides psychological education to clients, to help them understand why someone gets addicted, such as having friends who drink or take drugs.

“We talk about how to build a network of people in sobriety,” Wu explained.

The counselors help clients learn how to build boundaries with others and with oneself.

“Say no to people, places and things that will not be good for your sobriety,” she said.

Mountainside educates clients about how to prevent an overdose. More than 107,000 people in the U.S. died of drug overdoses in 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control. More than two-thirds of all overdoses were from synthetic opioids, mostly fentanyl, the CDC found.

“We work on gratitude,” Wu said. “Find something you could be grateful for. Write it down. Say it. Show up as the person you want to be in service of your values.”

“The most important thing,” Wu continued, “is to know that there is help. You can live in a way in which you are not in bondage to these substances. Many people struggle. They feel they’re alone. We have medication-assisted treatment, that helps with cravings. People don’t know these things. We work on creating healthy attachments to the group. We work to get rid of the stigma and shame of addiction. We help form compassion for others and yourself.”

Pleasantville resident Michael Gold has had articles published in the New York Daily News, the Albany Times Union, The Virginian-Pilot, The Palm Beach Post, other newspapers and The Hardy Society Journal, a British literary journal.

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