We care about addiction
The attempt to elicit pleasure by stimulating the brain’s “feel-good centers” in pursuit of the next buzz, the next high is, regrettably, a chase for desperation. It's a hunger that moves individuals to take risks and make choices that profoundly affect outcomes in all areas of their lives: health, professional, financial and personal.
The illusion of satisfying these ravenous cravings, in a quest to recreate gratification, leads to a progressive devastation of both body and mind. The condition is debilitating emotionally, often physically, and most assuredly spiritually.
Like a hurricane, addiction wreaks destruction that causes substantial pain to everyone in its path. More than a family disease, it affects our communities and nation. Staggering statistics and a fractured healthcare system are current realities.
The Centers for Disease Control report that death due to overdose of prescription medication is epidemic. Use of tobacco, alcohol and other drugs accounts for “600 billion annually in costs related to crime, lost work productivity and health care.”
I am not a neuro-scientist, or a psychologist. I am a registered nurse and have witnessed hundreds of human beings during their most vulnerable moments. The perspective I offer is a view from the other side of the hospital bed, from my own personal experiences, and from those courageous enough to share their stories.
Frequently, I encounter various common disorders in which the root cause is substance abuse.
It is well known that tobacco causes heart disease, lung disease and cancer. Cause of death will be labeled with the latter on the death certificate. But was it really? Addiction easily could be replaced as the cause of death for innumerable end-of-life situations.
Depression is anguish for those who suffer from it, but often there is self-medication with drugs and alcohol that perpetuates the disorder, creating additional despondency and darkness.
I do not wish to belabor the point, but I do want to bring clarity to the enormous strain substance abuse has on our physical and mental health. I have witnessed an assortment of accidents, falls, and mishaps in people under the influence. From simple lacerations, to motor vehicle traumas, barroom brawls, domestic violence and death, addiction destroys lives.
Addiction injures everyone. It provokes denial, relapse and futility. The addict is consumed with self-loathing and shame, yet repeats the behavior, over and over.
In Alcoholics Anonymous, fondly called “the Big Book” by those in the AA fellowship, it is said, “alcohol is a subtle foe” (page 85). This proclamation is certainly true for all addictions. The affected brain is triggered by any of the human senses, as well as thoughts, feelings and memories. It can be a fleeting moment that is acted upon without thinking it through.
I recall many years ago, in my mid 20s and feeling somewhat pudgy after two pregnancies (and intermittent food binges), that a thought occurred to me while food shopping: maybe if I smoked a little instead of snacking I would lose weight.
The decision to purchase a pack of cigarettes that day in the grocery store triggered a relapse that lasted 15 years.
In what way is the potential addict’s brain different, prior to the onset of substance abuse? Are their brains unlike those of non-addicts? Do certain types of addictions affect the brain in the same way or in a different way? When addictive substances change the brain circuitry, is this damage always permanent?
There are various theories that include a genetic predisposition, such as exists for heart disease or cancer.
Many persons in recovery believe they were “born that way.” Recent research has uncovered intricacies of the brain's reaction to various substances. Some include temporary changes, others permanent.
Let’s face it; some substances are easier to beat than others. Each addictive substance or activity in which one engages (for example, gambling, over-eating, drugs, alcohol, pornography, tobacco) has its own unique challenges to conquer.
We as a community often cannot comprehend the disease of addiction. Even among medical professionals there are misunderstandings, disagreements and differing opinions. This disease is bewildering, chronic and progressive, regardless of the age of onset or the substance used.
Rehabilitation centers and 12-step recovery groups have provided invaluable assistance. Yet, it is not enough. Too many rooms have empty chairs. There are a multitude of people out there who need help but maintain their secrets.
However, there is a light that illuminates hope. It is shining within those who possess rewarding and victorious lives in long-term recovery.
What if those people stepped out from the rooms or church basements and into the daylight? Across the United States there is a movement that is cultivating this very concept. People in recovery are “coming out” to be visible to those desperate and in need.
Thanks to the dedication and commitment of numerous community members in Waldo County, there is a grass roots group called WeCARE (Waldo Encourages Community Assisted Recovery Efforts), now in its infancy. The première of the film “Anonymous People” at the Colonial Theater on Tuesday, Sept. 16 at 7 p.m. is open to all and will include a panel discussion on the topics raised.
The paradox is this: those who suffer from the disease of addiction are chasing desperation, and for those fortunate enough, desperation can be the catalyst of healing and recovery. In that way it becomes a gift.
For some, it is a grace received generously and in abundance; for others, a “bottom” that is uniquely their own.
The gift has the potential for complete transformation when received by a willing and honest heart — a heart that is prepared to rise from of the abyss of misery and embrace what is freely given for relief of their affliction.
Our response as a community is to move beyond judgment and stigmatism toward awareness and compassion. In this way, WeCARE can be an essential element of this gift.
A registered nurse for almost 23 years, Teri Blackadar is on staff at Waldo County General Hospital and is the health science careers instructor at Waldo County Technical Center. She lives in Searsport.