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Understanding Addiction

By Suzanne Jessee MA, CHt

Every day in millions of homes throughout the country, those who love another addicted to drugs or alcohol asks, “Why are they addicted?” “Why can’t they just stop?” “Don’t they see what it’s doing to them – and to me?” “Why doesn’t treatment work for us?” These are sincere and valid questions about the insidious disease of addiction.

Perhaps I can shed some hope and understanding from a very personal, as well as professional, viewpoint.

Why are they addicted?

The vast majority of people who end up addicted to alcohol or drugs never intended to do so. It’s not one of those “bucket list” items we hope to accomplish in our lives. Some are genetically predisposed to addiction, and others are environmentally influenced. A doctor I used to work with at Brighton Hospital in Michigan said that “genetics load the gun, and the environment pulls the trigger.” Environment may include the unintentional dependence on opiate pain relievers originally prescribed for a chronic condition or post-surgery, or, being around family and peers who influence the use of drugs and alcohol as a social or emotional coping tool.

Why can’t they just stop?

For a person who has never had an addiction, this is the most frustrating and baffling question of all. It is hard to comprehend why someone can’t simply stop doing something that is clearly destroying their lives. The greatest differentiator between an addicted and a non-addicted brain is the phenomenon of craving. I’m not talking about craving a piece of chocolate; I’m talking about a craving that is akin to craving water just before you die of dehydration. Make no mistake about it, this is real and extremely painful, particularly for the heroin and opiate addicts and those in the advanced stages of alcoholism.

Why don’t the doctors do something about it?

The truth is, some of them are, but most are not. You may be shocked to learn that roughly 10 percent of a traditional doctoral study curriculum is dedicated to addiction education. And until very recently, the drugs available to combat the disease of addiction were either adding to the problem – like methadone for opiate addiction – or missing the core issue as with nausea-inducing drugs for alcoholism.

Why doesn’t treatment work for us?

In my experience, treatment centers are working as hard and as fast as they possibly can with the resources they have to offer for the best chances of successful recovery. However, it also takes a willingness of the client to do what it takes to recover, which may also mean working on the underlying contributing factors like depression and anxiety. Treatment doesn’t work when there is lack of willingness, lack of emotional stability, and an inability to overcome the power of the craving phenomenon.

Today, there are some exciting groundbreaking advances in addiction medicine. As a person who has had a front row seat to the emotional, relational, financial, and loss-of-life devastation that accompanies the disease of addiction, I can tell you that I am excited to see these advancements. I truly believe that when a person is willing to do what it takes to get what they want, and is given the proper tools, they can succeed.

Suzanne Jessee is the author of Escape Anxiety: 8 Steps to Freedom Through Meditative Therapies and an addictions and anxiety specialist at RecoverySupport.Help. She welcomes your call and can be reached at (760) 442.7281.

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