Addiction is a considerable healthcare problem in the United States. Over 21 million Americans have suffered from addiction or are currently addicts. Today, we will help you break down some of the messaging we receive around addiction and show you how you can help people in your community.
Myth: Addiction is solely a behavioral problem.
Fact: While it is a choice to remain in addiction and not seek help, addiction primarily happens due to the actions of neurotransmitters in the brain.
The brain dopamine center is called the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA). This area plays a significant role in determining how the brain processes rewards and motivation. This part of the brain contains something called the Mesolimbic Dopamine Pathway. Neurons produce dopamine in this area. Addictive substances activate these neurons to create more dopamine. Over time, as the brain adjusts to this rise in dopamine, it creates neuroadaptations that can linger even once a person stops using addictive substances. When a person chooses to stop using, the brain will produce physical effects that are the opposite of what the user may have experienced while taking a substance. Without a doctor’s intervention and assistance, attempts of an individual to go cold-turkey or quit using drugs entirely can be dangerous and, in some cases, even deadly.
While addicts do have the choice to get or refuse help, ultimately, genetic predispositions may make seeking recovery more complex. Individuals with fewer D2 receptors than others had more difficulty getting out of addiction and preventing relapse. D2 receptors are a specific type of receptor responsible for the release, synthesis, and uptake of dopamine in the brain.
Myth: You can only become addicted to contraband substances.
Fact: Individuals can become addicted to drugs that they are prescribed through their doctor.
Many individuals are initially prescribed a medication by their doctor and end up over-using their stated prescription to deal with extreme pain. This phenomenon has been especially noticeable in the case of the opioid epidemic. In the late 1990s, pharmaceutical companies assured doctors that opioid pain relievers were not addictive, so doctors began prescribing these medications in mass quantities. As of today, over 10.1 million individuals have misused prescription opioids in the past year. Opioid overdose is now responsible for over 48,000 deaths yearly.
Myth: People with addictions can’t recover.
Fact: People with addiction can recover!
There are a variety of medical and behavioral approaches that can help get individuals out of addiction. For hard drugs, doctors can prescribe various replacement drugs and therapies to wean the user off the original drug of choice. Many individuals who have struggled with intense addictions have benefited from the twelve-step program. The twelve-step program outlines a pattern of acceptance and means of addressing the presence of addiction in one’s life. This method includes admitting to oneself that you cannot control your addiction, believing in a higher power that can help give you strength, examining past errors, making amends for these actions, learning to live with a new code of behavior, and helping others that suffer from addiction. For milder addictions, like binge eating or nicotine addiction, addicts can implement behavioral therapy to gain freedom from addiction. Cognitive-behavioral therapy works in three steps. This therapy helps individuals identify problem areas in their life, identify problematic thinking, and then reshape that thinking. Thinking patterns like “I can’t” or “I always” are reframed as “I can” or “I sometimes do.” This therapy helps individuals reframe their self-referential narrative as a positive one.
You can help people in your community recover from addiction by encouraging them to get help and pursue medical and personal therapy. You can also help addicts by standing up against the stigma of addiction when you hear these myths being perpetuated. If you see something, it is imperative to say something and get your loved ones the help they need before it is too late.
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