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Foss: State Senate leader sets good example in battle with alcoholism

Foss: State Senate leader sets good example in battle with alcoholism

Many won't seek help
Foss: State Senate leader sets good example in battle with alcoholism
John Flanagan, the New York State Senate majority leader, is seen in May.
Photographer: Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

We all know someone like state Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan. 

Someone who felt alcohol was "becoming a crutch to deal with pressure." Who sought help for alcohol dependency because drinking was taking a toll on work and family. 

It isn't easy to admit you have a problem with alcohol, or to get treatment for alcoholism. 

There are a lot of people who never do either of these things. There are also a lot of people who know they have a problem and seek help, but fail to overcome their addiction. 

I've known people like this. 

Haven't you? 

Which is why I give Flanagan an enormous amount of credit for acknowledging his struggles with alcohol abuse and offering encouragement to people dealing with similar problems. 

"If you find yourself becoming dependent you not only have a responsibility to your family and colleagues to recognize it, but to proactively engage the programs that are in place that will help you," Flanagan said in a statement issued over the weekend. "No one is immune. Seek help and regain your personal pathway through life." 

Whatever one thinks of Flanagan's politics, or his tenure as Senate majority leader, his decision to publicly acknowledge his alcohol dependency could serve as an example for others to follow. 

If nothing else, Flanagan's comments and the warm reaction to them highlight the fact that alcoholism is a disease that can be treated, that there's nothing wrong with seeking help for a drinking problem and that treatment is available for those who seek it. 

This might sound obvious, but studies have shown that many people do not seek help for alcoholism. 

According to a 2015 study published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, just 20 percent of people with an "alcohol-use disorder" seek treatment. That's not a lot of people, especially when you consider that nearly 1 in 7 Americans have struggled with a serious alcohol problem in the past year alone. 

Unfortunately, there's still a stigma to getting treatment, although there are signs this is changing. 

Fueled by the opioid epidemic, more people are speaking out about addiction, and the devastation it has caused in their own lives, and the lives of friends and family. 

One of my former colleagues has gone public about her own struggles with alcohol dependency in the hopes of showing people that it is possible to recover and live a life free of alcohol. 

As these kinds of examples become more common, more people will seek help for an addiction. 

And that's a good thing. 

I doubt Flanagan planned to contribute to the ongoing discussion of addiction, treatment and recovery. 

But he has. 

And that's a good thing, too. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's.

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