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[ Opinion ]

Addiction: It’s Your Problem, Too.

While I’m pretty sure it’s an obvious statement, I feel the need to say that I am not a neuroscientist, nor am I a psychologist. I don’t claim to have any specialties on addiction, except for the fact that I’m REALLY good at using drugs. Actually, no. False. I’m really BAD at using drugs, as they tend to ruin my life, but I DO have a lot of experience with them.

Because I am not a medical professional, I feel the best way to talk about what addiction is and how it affects the brain is to point you in the right direction via some research I’ve done. (I AM a pretty damn good researcher, thanks to a Master’s Degree in History. Shout out to Dr. Strieter & the rest of MSU History Department for making me read 10 books a week for two years.)

There’s a lot to learn about addiction, and I strongly believe education is the first step of many in moving out of the problem and into the solution. People are scared of what they don’t understand, and the general public will continue to fear addicts and their disease until they better grasp WHAT addiction is, WHY it’s everyone’s problem and WHY it’s still growing:

First of all, addiction is a disease. It is not a moral deficiency. 

“Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain—they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs.” The National Institute on Drug Abuse has an excellent publication, Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction, that explains very complicated neuroscience in relatively easy to understand terms. I’d love to rattle off intelligent sounding statements about dopamine and serotonin and synapses and reward centers, but trust me. You’re better off learning from the pros in this article.

Addiction is not just the addict’s problem, but society’s problem… and an expensive one, at that. “Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States…. exceed $600 billion annually. This includes approximately $193 billion for illicit drugs, $193 billion for tobacco, and $235 billion for alcohol. As staggering as these numbers are, they do not fully describe the breadth of destructive public health and safety implications of drug abuse and addiction….” Yes, you read that correctly.

SIX HUNDRED BILLION DOLLARS.

A huge amount of this goes to jails and correctional facilities that punish non-violent drug offenders; while some jails and institutions offer substance abuse programs, not all of them do. And the ones that do are often implemented poorly and inefficiently. Imagine what we could do with that kind of money IN THE RIGHT HANDS, WITH THE RIGHT MOTIVES & PROPER TREATMENT CHANNELS. Check out the full article here.

Drug abuse and addiction remains to be a GROWING problem… Especially among young adults and especially with prescription pain medication. “According to results from the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), an estimated 2.4 million Americans used prescription drugs nonmedically for the first time within the past year, which averages to approximately 6,600 initiates per day…” When I first began using drugs, I didn’t see it as actual DRUG ABUSE because I wasn’t buying “the hard stuff” off the streets. My addiction grew out of occasional, recreational use of prescription medicine, which was relatively easy to locate, regardless of where I was living. Almost before I realized it, I was physically and mentally dependent on prescription narcotics. I lost all control of my using and it consumed my life.

My story is only one of millions. The cost of substance abuse continues to rise, as does the number of people suffering from the disease. This information alone tells me that we’re failing. We aren’t doing something right. And until EVERYONE understands this, we cannot move forward. We cannot fix a problem that we don’t know we have… or one that we’re aware of, but even worse, remain unwilling to acknowledge.

I implore you: do your homework. Tear yourself away from Facebook or Instagram for an hour tonight and learn about what we’re doing, as a nation, to win the war on drugs (thanks for the tag line, President Reagan). What we’re doing is not enough. What we’re doing is not working.

But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. You can find a ton of great information here, here and here.