Is ad­dic­tion bi­ol­ogy or psy­chol­ogy?

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - Edi­tor’s note: Ever since the Whig con­cluded its “Voices of Re­cov­ery” se­ries last fall, many have asked the paper to con­tinue dis­cussing re­cov­ery and ad­dic­tion. As an ex­ten­sion of that fo­cus, we now present “Shift the Fo­cus” an ev­ery-other-week col­umn by

ELK­TON — Four years ago I de­cided to drug test my son.

I had ex­plored all other av­enues when he was strug­gling in school — sleep­ing more than usual, los­ing con­tact with his friends and iso­lat­ing from the fam­ily. Not hav­ing ex­per­i­mented with drugs my­self, I did not know the signs and symp­toms but the pe­di­a­tri­cian had sug­gested he might be tam­per- ing with mar­i­juana. I was blind­sided when his urine test was pos­i­tive for opi­ates.

I was hit with the guilt that I must have been naive to have missed the signs. How could this have hap­pened? I had sole legal and phys­i­cal cus­tody of my chil­dren, they were with me the ma­jor­ity of the time. Ques­tions started flood­ing into my head.

Is ad­dic­tion the re­sult of bad par­ent­ing? A moral is­sue? A self-con­trol prob­lem?

I dis­cov­ered it is none of the above.

With pre­scrip­tion med­i­ca­tions so read­ily avail­able, in­di­vid­u­als can ac­cess pills in nearly any home they enter. Even the best par­ent­ing skills can­not be­gin to con­trol the ac­cess their child may have at a rel­a­tive or friend’s house if they so de­sire. Teach­ing chil­dren morals from an early age can­not pre­vent the in­tense crav­ing to get high. Once the drugs take over, self-con­trol is no longer a part of the equa­tion.

The Cen­ter for Disease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion records more than 47,000 drug over­dose deaths oc­curred in 2014, with pre­scrip­tion pain med­i­ca­tions, known as opi­oids, and heroin as the main drugs re­spon­si­ble. Opi­oids are passed out like candy in our country. There are more than 250 mil­lion pre­scrip­tions writ­ten ev­ery year for painkillers, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial es­ti­mates. This is enough for ev­ery Amer­i­can adult to have a bot­tle of pills.

One of the most im­por­tant things to un­der­stand is the fal­lacy that ad­dic­tion is the re­sult of bad par­ent­ing, poor moral stan­dards or lack of self-con­trol. Ad­dic­tion is a disease.

By def­i­ni­tion, a disease is an in­cor­rectly func­tion­ing or­gan that in­ter­rupts or mod­i­fies the per­for­mance of the vi­tal func­tions. With ad­dic­tion, the brain is the pri­mary or­gan af­fected. This or­gan reg­u­lates all of our body func­tions. When drugs or al­co­hol are abused, the lim­bic sys­tem is flooded and over-stim­u­lated with dopamine, a neu­ro­trans­mit­ter. This chem­i­cal mes­sen­ger reg­u­lates move­ment, emo­tions, mo­ti­va­tions and feel- ings of plea­sure. When this oc­curs, the be­hav­ior is re­warded pro­duc­ing eu­phoric ef­fects that the per­son us­ing the drug or al­co­hol wants. These eu­phoric ef­fects cause an obsession in the mind to go on drink­ing and drug­ging, sat­is­fy­ing what a per­son with the disease of ad­dic­tion craves: al­ter­ations in the mind and be­ing out of re­al­ity. Herein lies the com­pli­ca­tion of ad­dic­tion: The eu­phoric ef­fect caused by the surge of dopamine teaches the in­di­vid­ual to re­peat the be­hav­ior.

In 1943, an Amer­i­can psy­chol­o­gist name Abra­ham Harold Maslow wanted to un­der­stand what mo­ti­vates peo­ple. He be­lieved that peo­ple un­con­sciously pos­sess a set of mo­ti­va­tion sys­tems without the need for re­wards. Maslow cre­ated a pyramid, “Maslow’s Hi­er­ar­chy of Needs,” to es­tab­lish five lev­els that peo­ple are mo­ti­vated to achieve.

He be­lieved one must sat­isfy their low­est level of ba­sic needs, the phys­i­o­log­i­cal level, be­fore pro­gress­ing on to meet the safety, so­cial, es- teem and self-ac­tu­al­iza­tion lev­els. On the pyramid, the phys­i­o­log­i­cal needs are air, food, drink, shel­ter, warmth, sex and sleep.

Al­though these are the ba­sic needs for sur­vival for mil­lions of peo­ple, for the addict this level of ba­sic needs be­comes “Drugs, drugs, drugs, drugs and more drugs.” The bi­o­log­i­cal changes that take place in the brain elim­i­nate all of the ba­sic needs that a non­ad­dict would be mo­ti­vated by. Drugs be­come the sole mo­ti­va­tion.

The path to­wards ad­dic­tion can be­gin as early as the mid­dle school years. The road to ad­dic­tion is the same for a vast ma­jor­ity of ad­dicts. It be­gins with drink­ing and then smok­ing mar­i­juana. Al­co­hol is found in most homes. Par­ents can eas­ily de­tect if their child is drink­ing. Al­though in­ex­pen­sive, a child has a more dif­fi­cult time ob­tain­ing al­co­hol due to the legal drink­ing age. Mar­i­juana is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble through class­mates, older sib­lings or rel­a­tives. Many times chil­dren are ex- posed to al­co­hol or “weed” the first time be­cause they are with a rel­a­tive who does not want to use alone.

I’ve heard the story of a North East wo­man who con­fessed that she shared with her niece to “de­crease the chance of it be­ing stolen, which would de­crease the amount she had for her­self, be­cause she only has enough for the week and cigs each day.”

Af­ter mar­i­juana, pre­scrip­tion drugs, co­caine and heroin are the next most preva­lent drugs in our county and across the country.

If you are a fam­ily mem­ber, the Ce­cil County Health Depart­ment of­fers a fam­ily sup­port group. Call 410-995550 for more in­for­ma­tion. Do not min­i­mize the ef­fects ad­dic­tion is hav­ing on all mem­bers of your fam­ily. Be brave, reach out for help It will change the way you view your addict and will give you hope for your own fu­ture!

Rec­om­mended view­ing of this week: “Plea­sures Un­wo­ven – Disease or Choice” by Dr. Kevin McCauley

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