Name: Laurel Camirand
Addiction and Its Complexities
As Johann Hari once shared “the opposite of addiction is connection.” Connecting with those that surround us can be a daunting task, especially given the everchanging technological landscape. The identity people share with the world is one of filtered photos and living up to unrealistic appearances. These images of unrealistic lifestyles are intensified in our current times. Thus, people have become increasingly isolated in a seemingly interconnected world. Such a fragmented society creates a subconscious drive to alleviate these uncomfortable feelings. Countless complexities exist when trying to answer the question of how the addiction crisis reached this point. Some of the causes of addiction are two-fold in the sense that they also become consequences. Isolation, lack of support and community, and other factors all play a role in driving the opioid epidemic as causes and consequences. Acknowledgement of these issues is the first step in the search for and application of solutions to this modern-day plague.
One of the greatest contributing factors that has accelerated the addiction crisis our nation faces is isolation. “Recent data confirm what many of us in the recovery space feared: National data from 2020 shows opioid related overdoses are at an all-time high. There are many reasons for this troubling statistic. Massachusetts is a national leader in curbing the opioid epidemic, but the ongoing pandemic continues to disconnect people from support services” (McGahan, 2022). Now more than ever, the impact of isolation on those with substance use disorders is highly visible. One study found that loneliness and lack of physical support during isolation related to covid-19 were 49% and 40% of the main reason respondents identified a craving to use substances, respectively (Bonny-Noach and Gold, 2020). This exasperated environment of loneliness combines with other historical occurrences, such as Purdue Pharma’s pushing of OxyContin to unsuspecting patients, perpetuating an already out-of-control crisis.
In the context of social environments such as schools, bars, nightclubs, and sports events, the pressure from others to partake in substance use can be increased. The desire to “fit in” or make friends may outweigh the perceived risks of initiating substance use. For many, addiction has started as “just this one time.” This fallacious thinking starts the cycle of infrequent use that eventually becomes increasingly regular until it spirals into an addiction. However, by the time the user realizes they have an issue, their ability to stop has become a thing of the past. The brain becomes hijacked through the substance altering dopamine levels in the brain and the reinforcement of seeking drug-derived pleasure takes effect. With the brain being designed to drive humans towards pleasure and away from pain (SAMHSA, 2016), the pain of feeling desolate and alone can drive the urge to seek comfort in substances. This shows that an emphasis on providing support and making a community is essential in both overcoming and further preventing the addiction crisis.
Interesting enough, isolation and lack of various types of supports are not just contributors to the cause of addiction – they’re also consequences of addiction. Once the vicious cycle of addiction begins, drug seeking behaviors including theft, assault, lying, and manipulating, become commonplace. These actions are hurtful towards those who love the addict. One by one, the addict’s supports will exit their life until no one is left. This drives isolation and the rationale that an addict “might as well keep using.” The only sense of community the addict will have is those of others using around them, which mostly makes the loneliness more evident once the drugs run out. Furthermore, Crime rates rise and costs to society increase. Reduced productivity, higher health care costs, stress within families, and increased health care costs are just a few of many consequences that society faces due to the addiction crisis (SAMHSA, 2016). The damages at the individual and societal levels drive home the need to remedy the current addiction crisis.
After acknowledging the addiction crisis and accepting that substance users need help rather than judgment or punishment, repairs can start to be made. People must bring themselves to place of asking the truly important questions. Why did this person start to use? What were the causes that made them feel this way? How did they reach a point of such low self-esteem that they thought they were no better than using substances? What was their first experience and reasoning to use substances? By asking these questions, the systemic and socioeconomic factors that need to be address on a widespread scale can be identified. Understanding addicts will ensure that strategies to prevent similar situations from happening to others growing up.
“Treating” the systemic causes will have a trickledown effect, decreasing the future number of addicts. Money will need to be funneled into creating curriculum that helps children to build their self-esteem. Mental health curriculum and school therapists need to be made readily available for students, whether they seem to be struggling or not. Providing parents with access to parenting classes and resources of the like to address familial problems will be needed. Policy changes to the criminal justice system will need to be made. Funding for proper treatment will need to be explored. More of an emphasis needs to be placed on personality and innate skills for the individuals working in the treatment of addictions, as opposed to credentials and degrees. Stability and continuity are key factors in recovery – high employee turnover is not good for clients or organizations. So many changes can be enacted to support this nation’s own recovery from addictions. Prevention and treatment need to be treated as equals – instead of just addressing the issue once there’s already a problem. “It is easier to prevent a disease than it is to treat one.” Having overcome my own personal battles close to five years, I can’t say there’s not a truer statement out there.
Bonny-Noach, H., & Gold, D. (2020). Addictive behaviors and craving during the COVID-19 pandemic of people who have recovered from substance use disorder. Journal of Addictive Diseases, 39(2), 257–264. https://doi.org/10.1080/10550887.2020.1856298
McGahan, J. (2022, February 9). To the Editor: Focus needed on recovery services, and labor shortages. Dorchester Reporter. Retrieved February 10, 2022, from https://www.dotnews.com/2022/editor-focus-needed-recovery-services-and-labor-shortages.
SAMHSA. (2016). The Neurobiology of Substance Use, misuse, and addiction. The Neurobiology of Substance Use, Misuse, and Addiction | Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs, and Health. Retrieved February 15, 2022, from https://addiction.surgeongeneral.gov/executive-summary/report/neurobiology-substance-use-misuse-and-addiction