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[ Staff Picks ] [ Opinion ]

Science Might Cure It, But Are We Better Off With Addiction?

Co Written by Matt Mendoza and Kelly Fitzgerald

(Research completed by Kelly. Opinion written by Matt)

We all know the devastating affects of addiction with alcohol and substance abuse. Not only does it slowly eat away at the addict’s soul, but it’s influence disrupts the lives of everyone who cares about the addict.

Of course the cause of addiction is in large part still a mystery, and likely has to do with multiple variables. One possibility that has been a hot topic of late, is that of social connectivity, or rather a lack thereof in modern American culture.

One telling study, showed that lack of social connection is a greater detriment to health than  smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure. Those who feel more connected to others have lower rates of addiction, anxiety, and depression. Despite the importance for our physical and mental well being, sociological research suggests that overall connectedness is declining at an alarming rate in the U.S. 

A long term study found that the average American has just one person they consider a close confidante (defined in the study as someone with whom one feels comfortable sharing a personal problem). This is down from an average of three when the same survey was completed in 1985.  This decline in social connectedness may very well explain the reported increase in people struggling with addiction to mind or mood altering substances., 

The medical community defines addiction as a disease, but that has been another hot topic of debate. As someone who struggled through addiction myself for nearly a decade, I’d argue against the disease model, but more on that later.

The bottom line is that addiction to substance abuse is a serious crises, and when compared to other medical conditions or “diseases”, science has been slow to make strides in improving success rates for sobriety. But maybe there is a reason behind this…

 Could we actually be better off in a society in which people use drugs to cope with their problems?

So while treatment for addiction continues to stall the general consensus says that AA is the way to go; at least that’s what our judicial system does. Courts in the U.S. mandate nearly a million people a year to AA or other 12 step programs.

If addiction is truly a disease, then why is the treatment method that’s prescribed the exact same as it was over 80 years ago? What other medical conditions or diseases are still treated with such antiquated, non evidence based solutions? Have there been no advancements? Or is the 12 step model just that successful? And if that’s the case, then why is there no medical based evidence to back up a solid success rate for 12 step programs?

With all the advancements in medical technology, has science made any breakthroughs in the realm of addiction? Will there ever be a cure for addiction?

In fact, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous predicts this very thing. In Chapter 3, in a portion of the Big Book that is read in almost every AA meeting, it says,

“We are like men who have lost their legs; they never grow new ones. Neither does there appear to be any kind of treatment which will make alcoholics of our kind like other men. We have tried every imaginable remedy. In some instances there has been brief recovery, followed always by a still worse relapse. Physicians who are familiar with alcoholism agree there is no such thing as making a normal drinker out of an alcoholic. Science may one day accomplish this, but it hasn’t done so yet.” -Big Book of Alcoholic Anonymous

So.. Will science one day accomplish this?

Maybe the more important question is, what would this “cure” look like? Will we simply come up with a vaccine that disables one’s ability to get “high”?

Surely that would result in a world of addicts looking to fill their void through destructive behavior.. or would it?

Lets just say hypothetically, that we are able to conquer the mental cravings of addiction with a vaccine or a pill. Would recovery cease to exist as we know it? Is living in an addiction-free world a future possibility? How about the community that so many of us have found our values in? Well before you panic, let’s take a step back, and see what science has achieved so far. Maybe science and faith aren’t as different as we thought.

WHAT HAS SCIENCE DISCOVERED?

Cocaine Vaccine: There have been several studies within the last few years that have brought these questions to light. One example is a vaccine to fight cocaine addiction. Reported in the journal Molecular Pharmaceuticals last year, the cocaine vaccine was developed by researchers from the Scripps Institute in California.

The vaccine works by using the natural immune system of the body to decrease the high, produced by cocaine. The vaccine uses a bacterial protein called Flagellin to trigger the immune system to attack and fight off cocaine once it enters the body. The result is that cocaine’s psychotropic effects are subdued, potentially giving cocaine addicts the ability to kick their habit. Scientists believe the latest vaccine has a promising future because of its success with tests on mice.

Heroin, Oxycontin, and other Opiates: Another drug in the mix for preventing addiction is called Revia, also known as Naltrexone HCL. Naltrexone is in a class of drugs called opiate antagonists, meaning it works in the brain to prevent the effects of opiates (that high feeling or relief of pain). It also reduces the desire to take opiates. It can also be used to treat alcohol abuse by decreasing the desire to drink alcohol. In both instances, Revia is usually used in combination with a treatment program that includes counseling, support, and lifestyle changes.

Then there’s Ibogaine. Ibogaine is a natural chemical found in the African Tabernanthe iboga root. The root has strong psychedelic qualities accompanied by intense hallucinations, because of this fact, it is a Schedule 1 drug in the U.S. This means no prescriptions can be written for this drug and it’s not ready for clinic use. It’s also illegal to dispense, possess, or distribute in the U.S. 

Large doses of ibogaine have been shown to temporarily eliminate ALL drug cravings. And ibogaine itself… it’s non-addictive. There are very few ibogaine treatment centers, but they can be found, in countries like Mexico and Australia. Ibogaine treatment is said to reset dopamine uptake pathways in the brain which can help stop conditioned responses to drugs. The drug is believed to change habitual thought patterns and restore normal patterns of neurochemistry. 

This allegedly takes care of the need for therapy, as it’s supposed to re-wire the brain, in what would seem to be an almost spiritual solution. 

So What can we say for certain?

We can definitely block the high from any form of opiates, wether it’s Heroin or a synthetic opioid such as Morphine or Oxycontin, there are ways to ensure that a person can not get any resemblance of a high from this class of drugs.

We can also say with certainty that with the help of a substance called Antabuse, Alcoholics can prevent the affects of a drink, as the substance not only blocks the mood altering affects, but in fact will make the person sick if consumed with any amount of alcohol. 

What is plausible?

There are many other natural and pharmaceutical remedies with bold claims and plenty of promise. Nearly every drug appears to have it’s kryptonite. Wether or not some of these less known methods are 100% affective is yet to be seen.

But it wouldn’t be crazy to think that in our lifetime, we see kids getting their annual checkup, “Measles, Mumps, and Drug addiction?” It doesn’t really roll off the tongue, but point being, we’re not so far off.

WHY THIS SCARES ME TO DEATH


Most of us know what happens to an addict when they are forced to “white knuckle” their way through sobriety. Us addicts need community just as much as we need sobriety. The National Institute of Health recently came out and said:

“Dealing with the dynamics of a disease that sometimes requires as much investment from family and community as it does from the individual struggling to recover” -NIH

OK, so even if we can stop the affect from getting high, we know that sobriety trains us to use healthy coping mechanisms, attitudes, and feelings toward others. Since sobriety would no longer demand any effort, what happens to the person who would otherwise be an addict had it not been for their vaccine?

Take the “high” away from the traditional addict and there will still be the discontent or intolerable void that got most of us using to begin with., we will continue to behave in dysfunctional ways. Most of us used our sober communities to learn how to behave and function in normal society. 

So while vaccines could help with the physical dependence, there is a big unknown: What will happen to the psyche of the former addict? The act of getting high is merely a symptom of a much greater problem, and leaving all the mental and emotional issues unresolved could open our community up to a much more dangerous group of people. 

Let’s look at this hypothetically, lets just say that a vaccine is created that will block the “high” of every chemical substance you would otherwise be addicted to. 

You would in essence “cure” addiction (a condition which is currently labeled a disease), but you are left with a highly unstable population that will likely manifest its displeasure with life in some form of depression, anxiety or some other neurological disorder. In fact, i would argue that this proves that addiction is NOT a disease. Since the addict is left with a host of problems post-addiction, it appears that addiction is simply a symptom of some greater disorder, and that is what should be labeled a disease. 

Whatever disorder that becomes labeled, we would need much more than a “vaccine” to cure it. We would need something that cures the spiritual and communal issues associated with addiction. Ibogaine claims it does just this, but the jury is still out.

That sort of solution seems unlikely at best and impossible at worse. We would need to conquer the paradox, of creating a pill or injection to overcome the current limitations that come with a pill or injection.

Should science keep working on vaccines for addiction,? That depends, as Wendell Berry says:

In Western society  “People use drugs, legal and illegal, because their lives are intolerably painful or dull. They hate their work and find no rest in their leisure. They are estranged from their families and their neighbors. It should tell us something that in healthy societies drug use is celebrative, convivial, and occasional, whereas among us it is lonely, shameful, and addictive. We need drugs, apparently, because we have lost each other.” ― Wendell Berry

If we want to stop addiction, we need to find each other, we need more community, we need a healthier society. I just hope we are able to fix that problem before we find a cure for addiction. 

If you think our society is unhealthy with the current drug epidemic, I’m terrified to see what it would be like without drug or alcohol addiction.