Drug Addiction: Disease? Genetics?
by Dr. Vivian Blevins And then
When Dr. Nora D. Volkow, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, testified on June 23, 2010, to a committee and subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives, she said, “Science has shown beyond a reasonable doubt, that addiction is a disease of the brain, and that our genes contribute close to half of the risk of becoming addicted.”
She further indicated that with addicts there are “profound disruptions in the function of specific neurotransmitters and brain circuits.” In plain English, when the brain is not functioning normally, addicts do crazy things which to the non-addict just don’t make sense. They have limited control of their impulses, and they cause harm to themselves and grief to those around them. They may rob a gas station, drive a vehicle at high speeds, ingest too much and die from an overdose. They live in their own irrational world, and their cravings for drugs overpower all else, even when their friends die and they find themselves seriously injured from a car wreck or in jail.
Since my column addressed to the drug addict in the Harlan and Middlesboro papers, I have monitored the number of hits and thumbs up to the on-line Internet version, and there seems to be a great deal of interest. As of Aug. 5, there were 6,564 views and 378 thumbs up. Also, there have been several comments from readers.
Families of addicts are looking for solutions and feel powerless to locate any. Some believe that if they could just encourage/force the addicts into rehab, the problem would be resolved. It’s not that simple: The addicts need to want to take that first step, and until they are detoxed, they are not capable of doing even that. Even after detox, the brain takes about 90 days to begin to return to some semblance of normalcy. That’s why the recommendation for addicts who leave a rehab facility is “90 meetings in 90 days.”
What they learn in rehab must be reinforced and supported by others who have or are going through the same things they are experiencing. And that’s why aftercare is important. There is neither a magic cure nor a one-size-fits-all program.
So if you’ve read this far, you’re probably saying, “Cut to the chase, Vivian. What can we do?”
At the National Institute on Drug Abuse website (www.drugabuse.gov) there is information which may be of interest to you. At the home page click on what is called SAMHSA Treatment Locator 1-800-662-HELP in which you enter your town, state, and zip code as well as the distance you are willing to travel to a drug rehab facility. The facilities come up on your computer screen with contact information. I am recommending no facility but am merely providing you with a list. Many physicians are reluctant to give advice in this area because the rate of those who have been treated and move into recovery is very low.
I know that your anxiety level is high at this point, but I’d like to recommend you ask the following questions when you contact or visit facilities:
1. Cost: How much? Will insurance cover all or part of the cost? If the addict is detoxed in a hospital setting, what does that cost? Will insurance pay? If I have no insurance, are there programs available to reduce or eliminate the cost? Can I get a discount if I pay cash?
2. Length: What is the length of stay? What statistical data is available to indicate the probability of success? Are there after-care programs? What do they cost and how are they accessed? What is the record of success for these programs?
3. Return to Work/School: Following completion of the program, will the addict be able to return to work? To school?
4. Family’s Role: What is the family’s role during the program? After the program is completed?
5. Confidentiality: How much information will we be privy to in terms of the addict’s progress, or lack of same, while in the program?
6. Demographics of Patients: What are the typical demographics of those in this program: age, ethnicity, religion, educational level, class?
7. Program Components: What is the nature of the program? Is it faith-based? Is it 12 step-based? Is it cognitive-conditioning based? Does it have exercise, nutrition, and counseling components?
8. Qualifications of Personnel: What are the qualifications of the persons employed in the program? Is there a medical doctor at the facility?
9. Facilities: What are the facilities like? How are patients monitored for safety, health, and well-being?
10. Accreditation: Is the program accredited? By whom?
11. Medications: Will the addict be given medications? What kind?
I’m sure you can add to this list, but be certain to take your list and pen and paper when you call or visit.
And know I wish addicts and their families well: “…give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and courage to change the things I can….”
Send comments or suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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