A recent headline read “Meth use may be on the rise.” Many people were surprised by this, but we at the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse weren’t. We’ve been seeing the increase through our assessments and our drug tests, but the lack of surprise goes well beyond that.
As a nation, opioid addictions took us by surprise. There were appropriate responses: More money was put into treatment and prevention. We openly talked about causes. We worked to reduce stigma. We enhanced services for family members. But we still have a long way to go.
Now we also have to address meth addictions. And let’s not forget addictions to cocaine. And alcohol. And, of course, marijuana, nicotine and benzos.
What we have is an addiction epidemic, and, while there are specific medication-assisted treatment options available for people addicted to specific substances, “addiction” really is “addiction” across the board. For example, Vivitrol can be helpful for those with addictions to opioids and alcohol, but it won’t help a person addicted to benzodiazepines, just as many chemotherapy drugs aren’t indicated for specific kinds of cancer. That doesn’t mean one person’s cancer is less devastating than another’s, though, just as one person’s addiction is no less devastating than another’s.
Alcohol addiction still kills more people annually than any other drug except nicotine. Alcohol generally kills more slowly than opioids and is legal, so our collective consciousness hasn’t given it much attention.
And now we have to worry about methamphetamines, too. So where can we best use our energies to address the next big drug crisis?
The National Institute on Drug Abuse reminds us that “addiction is a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.” This disease causes brain changes over time, and those changes challenge the self-control of those suffering from addiction, including interfering with their ability to resist intense urges to use substances. This is why it’s considered a relapsing disease.
No one knows who will become addicted, but we know that treatment works. Treatment isn’t detox. It’s not getting through the withdrawal process, then white-knuckling it. Treatment is a change of life: people, places and things. Addiction stays with a person for life, so the best treatment does, too. Most people never need INPATIENT treatment. They need ongoing groups and supportive friends, family and community, people who won’t stigmatize them by calling them “addicts,” “junkies,” “drunks” and the like; people who won’t offer them ANY mind-altering substance because it’s not the “one” they are addicted to; people who will encourage their lives in recovery.
Looking toward another drug crisis, the best news is that no one has to become addicted. We CAN make an impact by: educating about the dangers of mood-altering substances, particularly on young, forming brains; not normalizing misuse of substances and talking respectfully about people with addictions and those in recovery.
We certainly have a crisis, but it’s not just meth. Or heroin. Or even alcohol. Our crisis is addiction.
Guida Brown is the executive director of the Hope Council on Alcohol & Other Drug Abuse Inc.