How Addiction Becomes Such A Big Crisis
"What’s wrong with me? I thought it would never happen to me. I come from a good family and I have goals. I wouldn’t know if I, my loved one, or friend was becoming addicted to drugs.”
These are the questions that recovering people, families, and local communities ask themselves when they experience the tragedies of drug addiction, particularly when it becomes a major cause of death. Addiction does not just happen. It occurs when individuals, families, and the communities do not expect it. It occurs when there is a lack of understanding of addiction. It occurs when those affected don't recognize the signs or don't know how to effectively prevent and treat it. This certainly pertains to the current opiate crisis. Although there is no one exact cause for it and no one can be blamed for it, we all have a responsibility to do something about it for our own personal well-being, for our families’ well-being, and for our communities.
Problems and Consequences of Addiction
No one plans or wants to become a drug addict, alcoholic, or compulsive gambler. Before addiction, these individuals were healthy. They had positive relationships, and were accomplishing their personal and professional goals. However, at some point the problems and consequences associated with addiction grew and became unbearable. By that time, it was too chronic and difficult to stop despite their desire to end their use. There are significant and chronic problems that occur when a person becomes addicted to drugs and then when addiction increases in the local and national population. People who use drugs can have negative moods like anxiety, depression, and anger. They can have cognitive impairment effecting concentration, judgement, coordination, and memory. Additionally, they can have behavioral problems such as impulsivity, aggression, and isolation. These affect job performance and relationships resulting in job loss, financial stress, divorce, arrests, incarcerations, health problems, physical injury, and death. Addiction and its chronicity is defined by its significant consequences of drug dependency. Communities suffer due to an increase in crime, domestic problems, abused or neglected children, hunger, and homelessness. Nationally, there is an increase in crime, costs of medical insurance, economic problems, and mortality rates. Currently, there is an opiate crisis. Addicts have been overdosing on opiates and dying across the country because of chronic drug dependency. Thus, it is important to learn everything we can about addiction, and to continue to develop community prevention and effective counseling interventions.
Is Addiction Caused by Biological Factors?
Addiction is a biopsychosocioeconomic disease. There is a genetic predisposition in which addiction can be passed from one family member to another, and from one generation to another. When you start drinking or using drugs, you are more likely to acquire an addiction if you have a grandfather who is an alcoholic and aunt dependent on crack cocaine than someone with little to no family history of substance dependency. Cross addiction is when you become addicted to one addictive substance or addictive behavior and you can become easily addicted to another. Also, gamblers, compulsive shoppers, and sex addicts are more likely to become a drug addict or an alcoholic, and vice versa.
Why Do People Continue Addictive Behaviors and Use Drugs?
Addiction is progressive and gets worse over time. As a result, some individuals, families, and communities do not recognize it. It simply cannot stop without professional intervention. Biologically, there is a tolerance in which someone’s use increases in frequency, amount and duration of time. With regular use, the body becomes dependent on the substance. The body can go through painful physical and emotional withdrawal (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, cramping, headaches, anxiety, depression, hallucinations, delusions, seizures, and/or sometimes death) upon cessation of using drugs. Inpatient detox or medication assisted outpatient treatment (ambulatory detox, methadone, or suboxone treatment) is recommended. During that time, medications are prescribed to curtail the withdrawal and prevent fatal symptoms, and/or relapse. However, some people do not know they are physically dependent until they try to stop. Unfortunately, by that time, they unknowingly have also become psychologically dependent on the substance(s) and addictive behaviors.
Many who are drug dependent persons don’t try to stop their use due to fear and emotional dependence. They have learned to cope with their mental and physical pain by self- medicating. They have learned to deal with life stressors like health problems, financial stress, and past trauma through addictive behaviors. They maladaptively adjust to their negative emotions of anxiety, depression, anger, and fear associated with their stressors through drug or alcohol use and/or other addictive behaviors. Some people do not become addicted to a controlled substance until they are first prescribed it. This may be for an emotional condition or physical pain. Because of tolerance, they abuse their medication by taking an increased amount to get the same effect (relief) they once had with the lesser dose. Some who are prescribed a benzodiazepines medication like Xanax, Ativan, or Klonopin for anxiety become addicted to it. Some who suffer pain from physical conditions or injuries become addicted to their prescribed opiate pill medication (Vicodin, Percocets, and Oxycontin). Later, when their prescription has stopped, they may inject heroin as a substitute. Like drug use, other addictive behaviors, such as excessive gambling and compulsive shopping, change the brain chemistry and creates a “high” which helps them forget their pain.
“I did not think drugs were in my community. Only the poor and criminals use drugs on the streets. Why did this happen? How can I stop my addiction, my loved one from using drugs, or this crisis in our own community?"
How to Stop Drug Use and the Progression of this Disease
Like diabetes, cardiac disease, and cancer, addiction is incurable. It requires medical intervention (inpatient and outpatient counseling), and long-term care such as an aftercare counseling group and/or 12 step meetings. Long term maintenance is essential for life style changes. These changes are necessary for relapse prevention and long-term abstinence. This includes three significant cognitive-behavioral changes: 1) Avoiding high risk situations (people, places, things, and events) associated with the addiction, 2) balancing and structuring time with work, rest, sober fun, and personal hobbies, and 3) developing and utilizing a sober, social group or network. Counseling includes learning new ways to think, cope with feelings, change behaviors, and manage urges.
Addiction can be described as the sleeping monster waiting for its opportunity to wake up and cause misery. Relapse occurs when your guard is down and when you least expect it.
Like other diseases, there are regressions or relapses when the disease is no longer dormant. A recovering addict usually relapses when they are triggered by something. These triggers can be boredom, memories of past use or trauma, an old or new socioeconomic stressor, negative feelings, and/or they discontinue disciplines that kept them sober. For example, they may stop AA attendance or start associating with old buddies who use. In the same way that someone may not realize they are becoming addicted, a recovering person may not recognize when they are relapsing. This is why it is essential that a support network such as family, counseling, and/or support group is ALWAYS in place. Although clean time is measured from the date of the last use, relapses may help people gain more insight into their relapse process and how to gain long term sobriety. Relapse is not failure at recovery. However, your high tolerance and pattern of drug use remains the same (or increase) when you relapse despite a long sobriety time.
Behavioral Warning Signs of Drug Use and Addictive Behaviors
Many family members and community professionals may not recognize the warning signs of addiction. When someone increases their drug use or addictive behaviors, the addiction becomes priority. They spend a greater amount of time planning, anticipating, and participating in the activity. They may disappear for hours and are unable or unwilling to explain where they have been. Household money or valuables may start vanishing, and bank accounts overdrawn. Personality changes, mood swings, impulsivity, inability to concentrate or remember, poor work or academic performance, and a change in friends or activities may be evident. They may isolate and withdraw from others or have social problems. It is important to know the physical symptoms of different types of drugs so that to know which drug(s) your loved one is using. When confronted about their addiction, the relapsing person may become defensive. They may blame others and making excuses for their different behavior.
What do I do if My Loved One is Using Drugs?
If your loved one is using drugs, do not continue to confront them. Looking for and throwing away their drugs or following them will not make them stop. However, any enabling behaviors will allow them to continue their addiction. Enabling means eliminating any consequences of their addiction. It means making excuses to others for their negative behaviors, and taking on their responsibilities. For example, a father might bail out his son who is arrested for drug possession so he will not spend the night in jail. A husband may call the boss of his spouse to make false excuses for why she will be absent from work. It might be giving money to a loved one who recently bought a round of drinks for their friends, or completing a loved one’s household chores or family responsibilities because they are high or hung over. Set limits and maintain boundaries. Say no to these requests for help and verbalize your expectations that they attend treatment and fulfill their responsibilities. Going to Al-anon will help you learn more of how you can take care of yourself and support your loved one.
As a Community, What Can We Do About Addiction?
As citizens and professionals in the community, we can address addiction in an educated, nonjudgmental, and empathetic way. Addiction is not something to be punished. It isn't relegated to the immoral, uneducated or poor. Rather, drug use is often unintentional behavior. It results from the physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms of an unforeseen disease. Most people who become addicted would never have lied, stolen, prostituted, assaulted others, or put themselves or families at risk if they did not have the compelling urges of their physical dependency. We must Break through the denial, realize that addiction is happening in our communities and provide education, community resources and services. These steps will reduce the stereotypes and myths of drugs addicts. They will increase empathy for the suffering of recovering addicts. In order to address addiction, statistical research in local towns is necessary. This will reveal the demographic of which populations (age, gender, ethnicity, and socio-economic status) are using certain types of drugs. Developing and implementing annual plans to provide education and accessible resources in local communities and considering funding in town budgets would be the initial strategies to reduce drug use and the fatalities of this this baffling, and complicated disease of addiction. As more communities address addiction, the national economic problems related to addiction will decrease.