Editorial, Oct. 6, 2016

Oct 06, 2016

Action required

Heartbreak. Guilt. Helplessness. Loneliness. Exhaustion. Confusion. Disappointment.

All of these, and more, are felt by family members and friends of addicts.

On this editorial page, we've bemoaned the lack of treatment options available in Waldo County, applauded steps at the state level to provide better education of medical professionals who prescribe painkillers that often lead to addiction, and criticized those looking for an end-all, be-all solution in Narcan. But we've never addressed the emotional and financial toll on family members and friends of addicts.

Too often, family members and friends are burdened with the task of not only trying to navigate sparse, and often expensive, treatment options but also trying to convince their loved one they need treatment.

Addicts can be unpredictable. Sometimes, the addict will say they are ready, only to balk at the idea of treatment after reaching the parking lot or the door.

Treatment doesn't always work, either, necessitating a repeat of the process and draining limited financial resources.

Last week, we published the story of one family affected by addiction. Their individual stories mirrored many other stories being told all over the country — they wanted to help but didn't know how or couldn't afford it.

We need to stop treating those seeking help as social pariahs. Addiction is a disease; people don't one day decide they want to be addicts. Some people become dependent or addicted; others don't. Just saying "no" can't get them over it, especially once they're addicted.

Addiction falls into the same category as other chronic diseases. There is evidence some people — as with alcohol — are more vulnerable to addiction, either through genetic predisposition or environmental factors. or both. Scientists estimate genetic factors account for 40 percent to 60 percent of a person's vulnerability to addiction, and mental disorders increase the level of risk. Environmental factors found to influence drug use include home and family (physical and emotional abuse, criminal activity, substance abuse), as well as peers and school (drug-abusing friends and acquaintances, academic failure, poor social skills).

With their brains still maturing during adolescence and into early adulthood — specifically the prefrontal cortex, which enables us to assess situations, make sound decisions and control emotions and desires — young people are at increased risk for poor decision-making. Moreover, introducing drugs while the brain is still developing can retard maturation with chronic, long-lasting consequences.

And, as with any other chronic condition, once addicted, relapses and setbacks are common.

Until we as a society can accept and acknowledge that addiction is a disease, we can not make progress toward treatment.

It is time to face the problem of addiction and create some real solutions and consistent sources of help for those struggling to get clean or help a loved one get clean.

Support groups available in the area are providing important services, but support groups are not where addicts begin recovery. Waldo County needs to establish a viable, accessible, affordable treatment program for addiction, whether it is through a medical facility, social service agency, religious group or municipality, and the community needs to support it.

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