Is addiction biology or psychology?
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