Recovering addict pays forward support in southern Arizona

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Thursday night marks the end of Alcohol Awareness Month across the country, but families in southern Arizona will continue to battle with addiction tomorrow.

Medical teams in emergency rooms throughout Arizona handled nearly 61,000 alcohol-related cases in 2012, according to the state health department. More than 9,000 of those cases happened in Pima County, while roughly 1,000 occurred in Cochise

and Santa Cruz counties combined.

Laura Fetherston, a recovering addict, entered rehab at Sierra Tucson six years ago. At that time, she was abusing alcohol and narcotics.

“I was really kind of just giving up on my life,” she said. “I had a lot of trauma and depression and all these things that were being perpetuated only made worse by my pattern of using.”

Newcomers to Sierra Tucson could be nothing like Fetherston, but their situations are similar. Chief Clinical Officer Jamie Vinck said alcohol doesn't share the same stigma as most substances that are abused, but it is still the reason

for many of their patients.

“Our youngest patient is 18 and we have had patients up to 80,” said Vinck. “And a number of those people come in addicted to alcohol.”

Confronted by her family, Fetherston turned to rehab willing to make a change.

“I felt so terrible when I got here,” she said. “I basically said that I would do whatever they told me to do to feel better.”

Now, she does what she wants to do. For Fetherston, that means a career in counseling. She currently works at Sierra Tucson as an intake specialist, but she's aiming to do more. She recently passed the state board to become a licensed counselor.

Fetherston said she wants to give back to the same community that helped straighten out her life. She believes her own experience in rehab will help her better connect with patients.

“I can always remember that I was once there and put myself into other people's shoes and I think that's hard for a lot of professionals to do,” said Fetherston.

She still attends AA meetings, but Fetherston didn't drop her addiction alone. Her family attended classes as well in order to help with a more complete transition.

“It changed the course of my family history of people getting sober,” she said. “My whole family really made a turnaround.”

That's the way it should be, according to Vinck. She said some families may lie or covering up a loved one's addiction, but it's not helping the situation.

“The people that have the most success after treatment, are the ones whose families come here and get education and do their own work,” she said.

More information about addiction and recovery programs can be found through

Pima County, or various other agencies in southern Arizona.

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