Written July 24, 2016
“Only people who are dirty and homeless are addicts.” “I’ve got bachelors degree in….. and a job doing…. I’ll never be a crack head.” “Why can’t you just stop getting high you junkie.” “My child is a good kid who was raised with good morals and values. He/She would never….” These are just a few statements I’ve heard over the years. Face it either you are a person who criticizes or condemns an addict or you(or someone you know or even love) is an addict.
To understand addiction, let’s start with the definition from ASAM(American Society of Addiction Medicine). “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response. Like other chronic diseases, addiction often involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”
Based on this is the definition of addiction, that it’s a disorder of the brain, how and why do people become addicted to various substances or behaviors? To start with an as children nobody says, ” Gee, I think I want to be an addict when I grow up!” That’s just not how it works. The reasons for addiction are many.
As the definition states an individual uses a substance or behaves a certain way to achieve a reward or relief. Reward in this case is instant gratification. For example, a gambling addicts reward is money when(or if) they win, and for the shopping addict or the food addict, their reward is feeling good when they find that great buy at a store or eat some item of food that makes them feel good(aka comfort food).
For the addict searching for relief, the reasons can range from the loss of a job or relationship. Other reasons are relieve painful feelings that arise from past childhood experiences, current domestic abuse situations, and many more. Even the feeling of getting high or drunk is the reward or instant gratification. Then there are another group of people who use drugs and alcohol to self medicate for depression, bipolar disorder, and even schizophrenia as well as other mental health issues. To not confuse anyone, I will stick to only addiction because mental health it a topic all on its own.
Addiction, of any kind, many times is hereditary and the individual can show signs of addiction before even picking up the first drug or behavior. This is not to say that every child of an addict will be one themselves. The chances, however, are more likely that they will be. There are people who can pick up a drug, drink, or behavior once or twice and then walk away from it. I recently saw a report saying that talking to your child about addiction reduces their chances of being an addict by up to 42%. Mind you, I said talking TO not AT your child. Having a dialog about it and not dictating or threatening them. For many addicts, 1 is to many and 1,000 is not enough. A famous commercial comes to mind, ” Lays potato chips. You can’t eat just one.”
Let’s clear up a couple myths about addiction, primarily alcohol and drugs. First, addiction is a disorder of the brain, an illness, a disease, not a moral deficiency. This has been proven by healthcare professionals and researchers in this field. The problem with the addict is not the substance or the behavior, but rather, it is a “dysfunction of circuits” in the brain, similar to depression, bipolar disorder and other mental health illnesses.
Second, the myth that an addict is some homeless person with a needle in their arm is a myth. Addiction of any substance or behavior can affect anyone. It does not discriminate. We all know addiction affects the young and poverty stricken areas, however, you do not need to look to hard to see that addiction, especially to drug and alcohol, affects people of all ages, skin colors, economic statuses, job statuses, religions and faiths. Addiction has no city/town/village, county, state, country or even personal boundaries. It doesn’t care how or when you started. It only cares about stealing your soul, making you do things you normally wouldn’t do, and then leaving you for dead – physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. There’s a statement about addiction where the ends are always, I mean ALWAYS, the same – jails, institutions, death and degradation – not necessarily in that order.
But there is hope for addicts. Although addicts are never cured, the disease itself can be put in a remission of sorts. The saying, “Once an addict, always an addict.” is partly true. Yes, an addict will always have the demonic disease inside of them, however, by getting help in some way puts it in remission very much like cancer or helps keep it in check similar to diabetes.
For those who snub their noses at that analogy, addiction is like cancer in that its progressive and fatal. Even some cancers are incurable even when then are in remission. It’s like diabetes in that without “medicine” to keep it in check it will surely kill the addict.
Medicine for an addict, however, is focused more of the mental and emotional kind as well as the physical. It involves things like rehabilitation centers, counseling, self help groups like Alcoholic or Narcotics Anonymous, and even religion. There are also medication therapies, however, that’s a debatable subject. Rather there are pros and cons of it being a viable or successful way to start recovery. For others with legal issues connected to addiction there is also a program called drug court in many states, perhaps other countries too. One might think a geographical change, or moving away from the triggers, people, places and things would help. This is not always the case because an addict can still find the people and places to get drugs.
There is an epidemic of drug use not only in this country but others too. What can a non addict do to help? First, drop the stigma. Anyone can be addict just as I said earlier. Next, love the addict despite their disease. That love does not include paying their bills, buying their next fix or even taking them to get it and certainly does not include bailing them out of jail. I know this sounds mean, cruel and heartless but it’s called tough love. An addict needs to be loved for who they are and where they’re at in life not by what you can do for them.
An addict can not be yelled at or beaten into a recovery program. They can be prayed for but until they are ready to find recovery there’s not much anyone can do or say to make them find it, sometimes not even legal problems. I pray that one day all addicts can be on the path of recovery.
Despite what many people say it’s going to take all people everywhere to help by getting involved in their communities. To break all the stigma and bring more awareness to our leaders that more can be done besides punishing an addict. Making help more easily obtainable is definitely a good way to help. Educating our children better without dictating or talking at them. Engage them in good conversations about it. Kids will still be kids and will still want to experiment no matter what. But there’s also a chance another of their peers could stop them.
Let’s stop burying our heads in the sand and let’s do some positive changing to help the next sick and suffering addict. Together we can make a difference. Why do I sound so passionate about this? Because I too am an addict who found a new way to live without drugs and alcohol. I’m also so tired of watching other addicts around me die because of this scourge, this plague, this disease, this demon we call addiction.
To read a couple of good articles about the definition of addiction, 1) From the ASAM website( http://www.asam.org/for-the-public/definition-of-addiction) and 2) Psychology Today (www. psychologytoday. com/basics/addiction). These are just two of the many, MANY articles on addiction from a couple of the MANY websites.