Palm Springs Republican Representative Mary Bono Mack made headlines back in late 2011 with the introduction of the Stop Oxy Abuse Act. The legislation is designed to curtail prescription abuse by ensuring that only people classified with “severe pain” could have access to strong prescription painkillers such as Vicodin. According to news reports, this issue is of special importance to Representative Bono Mack as her son, Chesare, abused a family prescription when he was younger. Chesare was far from alone in his addiction.
According to the National Institutes of Health, one in 10 Americans older than 12 has a substance abuse or dependence issue. With statistics like this in play, it’s no wonder that legislators all across the country are looking for new ways to regulate substances and ensure that addiction isn’t allowed to bloom. This is a noble goal, to be sure, but what happens to people who already have an addiction issue? The news here is also positive. As the number of addicted people rises in the United States, so does the amount of time and effort spent on studying addiction. As a result, medical professionals have come up with a wide variety of innovative treatments that can help people recover from their addictions.
Understanding the Basics
Addiction is considered a disease of compulsion. Whether the person is addicted to alcohol, cocaine, prescription medications, or behavior like gambling, that addiction has changed the way the person’s mind works on a chemical level. A person with an addiction can no longer control the behavior. Instead, the behavior controls the person. While it would be ideal if an addicted person could simply stop engaging in the behavior, waking up one morning and choosing to leave the addiction behind for good, the truth is that addiction can be a deep-seated issue that may take months or years to truly combat. For some people, addiction is a chronic disease, and they must spend the rest of their lives attempting to keep the addiction under control.
It might sound negative, or even a little scary, but there is room for hope. By enrolling in a program that’s designed to identify and treat the addiction, the person can get help on many fronts and learn a variety of life-changing skills that can truly make a difference in the fight against addiction. Often, this means that the addiction treatment travels down two separate, but equally important, paths: the physical and the mental.
Many substances that addicts use cause structural changes in the brain. People who abuse heroin or prescription medications, for example, flood their brains on a regular basis with their drug of choice. The brain interprets the drugs improperly, believing that the drugs are actually chemicals the brain produces naturally. In order to stop the flood, the brain begins to tweak its own makeup, becoming less responsive to these chemicals. When these people stop using drugs, the brain may interpret the withdrawal as a medical emergency, and it may clamor for the drugs. Similarly, people who abuse alcohol sedate their brains for long periods of time. When they stop drinking, and the brain is allowed to respond normally, the brain may simply seize up, as it’s become accustomed to being asleep for long periods of time. These are physical issues caused by addiction, and they can lead the addict right back into a relapse.
In an addiction treatment program, doctors can provide addicts with therapies they can use to correct these chemical imbalances and reduce the cravings they feel.
People addicted to heroin or prescription drugs might use medications like:
People addicted to alcohol might use entirely different medications altogether, including antidepressants and anti-seizure medications. Some people need even more intense medication assistance. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), most people who have a severe addiction issue are addicted to more than one substance at the same time. These people may need a wide variety of medications, all carefully managed to ensure that they don’t conflict.
The physical damage from drug and alcohol abuse can move past the physical dependence, however. Sometimes the addiction takes its toll on the physical health of the person. For example, methamphetamine can cause tiny blood vessels in the gums to shrivel and die. Addicts can have severe dental health issues as a result, and these problems can cause intense pain. Easing that pain can help the addict steer clear of drug use, as the user won’t be tempted to lean on drugs to mask the pain.
Similarly, some people begin using drugs because they had pain issues that weren’t adequately controlled. If these people attempt to stop abusing drugs or alcohol, they may face an intense rebound of that pain, and their addiction may seem like a reasonable method to use to control that pain. In the past, it was assumed that people in recovery from addiction couldn’t use any sort of painkiller to control their pain. Now, according to research presented in Palm Springs at the American Academy of Pain Medicine’s 28th Annual Meeting, doctors know that addicts with chronic pain can be treated effectively with a combination of medications and therapy. In other words, now doctors realize that pain isn’t conducive to long-term healing, and people in chronic pain can feel confident that their pain will be addressed as part of the physical recovery process.
Addiction programs often include a heavy dose of counseling. As the American Society of Addiction Medicine puts it, addiction counseling is designed to teach addicts new ways to cope with the stresses of life. When an addict is faced with a challenge, such as the loss of a job, the breakup of a relationship or a death in the family, the addiction has provided a safe harbor in the past for that addict. Counseling is designed to help the addict see that addiction isn’t, in truth, a helpful coping strategy. Instead, facing the issue directly and dealing with the issue without the addiction can be considered a superior choice.
Counselors have many methods they can use to help addicts understand this lesson. Often, counselors use a technique called “Cognitive Behavioral Therapy,” in which the addict is asked to think about the thoughts that lie beneath the cravings caused by the addiction. For some addicts, this means examining negative self-talk that can lead to depression and cravings for drugs or alcohol. For other addicts, this means dealing with old trauma and memories that pop up unexpectedly, causing intense pain. And for yet other addicts, this means coming up with techniques that can deflect peer pressure to engage in addiction.
Counselors may tweak this basic program by:
- Including the family in therapy, helping the entire group to focus on positive changes that can discourage abuse and addiction.
- Providing prizes when addicts complete specific aspects of their addiction program.
- Holding group sessions, where many people in recovery share their ideas and learn to support one another.
- Asking the addict to complete “homework assignments,” where the addict challenges a long-held belief that can lead to a relapse. An addict who believes that parties are boring without alcohol, for example, might be encouraged to go to a party for 15 minutes, meet three new people and then report on whether or not the party truly was boring.
Some addicts need specific help to deal with mental health issues that lie beneath their addiction. For these people, truly recovering from addiction means addressing both the specific mental changes that have been caused by the addiction and the specific mental issues that are caused by the underlying disease. Addressing just one issue, while ignoring the other, could lead to an imbalance and a worsening of the addiction, the mental health issue, or both. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, depression and alcoholism often go hand in hand, but of those with both depression and alcoholism, 48.6 percent received treatment that was targeted exclusively to depression. It’s a startling statistic, and it’s likely that statistic could be replicated with a wide variety of mental illnesses and addictions. This is a statistic we’re trying to amend at Michael’s House. We provide treatments that are designed to help deal with both mental illness and addiction. Please call us to find out more about these innovative programs and how they can help.
Finding the Right Program
In Palm Springs, there are tons of programs available to help people fight addiction. Finding the right program often means shopping around, asking questions, and taking notes along the way. It’s an important decision, and it pays to weigh all the options carefully and make an informed choice. The NIDA believes that the best programs for addiction are programs that are tailored to meet the needs of the individual addict at that time. These programs are sensitive to the addict’s age, gender, cultural background, and addiction of choice. They may also differ depending on the number of times that the addict has tried to quit in the past. Then, as the addict moves through the therapy program, the components provided may change, depending on the addict’s progress. Programs that are static, providing a one-size-fits-all approach may not be as helpful as programs that offer an intensive intake process, designed to determine all the factors the addict needs to have addressed, and then an intensive planning stage where a customized plan is pulled together. These programs, with their complete planning aspects, can help an addict recover on many fronts.
Similarly, programs should provide treatments that are based on scientific principles. As mentioned, addiction therapies have been studied, tested, and written about for decades, and as a result, a great number of therapies are considered both safe and customary. Some programs might be based on junk science, or no science at all. These programs may do more harm than good as they don’t provide the addict with the help needed to break the addiction. It’s best to look for facilities that provide evidence for the therapies they use.
Cost is an important consideration for many families. Unfortunately, according to the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, the most common reason people with substance abuse issues don’t seek treatment is fear of high costs. These people may not have insurance, or they may have plans that don’t cover intensive recovery programs. While this is a reasonable fear, it can certainly be addressed. Some families choose outpatient programs for addiction, allowing them to save on the room and board costs charged by inpatient programs. Other families choose inpatient programs that provide payment plans based on need. There are many, many options available to help with costs. Please call us at 760.548.4032 to find out more.
Why Is It Important?
Addiction can be a fatal disease, causing people to ruin their bodies, cause distress to their families, and run the risk of overdose. The cost to society of untreated addiction can also be quite high. People who are addicted to drugs and alcohol can commit crimes and cause destruction. Researchers writing for the journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence found that during the year before addiction treatment, 34 percent of people studied had been convicted of an offense, but only 18 percent of the people studied were convicted of an offense in the five years after therapy. Clearly, addiction treatment helped both the addicts and the members of their community. It was well worth it for these people to get the help they needed to heal and move forward with their lives.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, we encourage you to do the same and ask for needed help. Call us today at 760.548.4032 for more information.