Millions of people know what it’s like to lose everything to addiction. Millions more know what it’s like to live with a parent or family member who abuses drugs or alcohol. What too many don’t know is how to get better.
In spite of a large body of research showing that addiction is a chronic disease, only one in 10 addicts receives any form of treatment – often, treatment that falls woefully short of what we know works, according to a five-year study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
Rather than helping, most forms of addiction treatment are hindering recovery and costing the public in the process. The CASA report identified the following specific problem areas:
• Stigma – One-third of Americans still regard addiction as a moral failing or a lack of willpower rather than a treatable disease. Addiction affects more Americans than other chronic health conditions, yet the disease is shunned by the medical community, CASA reports. Spending to treat addiction ($28 billion to treat 40 million people) falls far behind other conditions, such as diabetes ($44 billion to treat 26 million people), cancer ($87 billion to treat 19 million people) and heart conditions ($107 billion to treat 27 million people).
More people are addicted to drugs now than any time in our nation’s history. Addiction has become public enemy number one, and the search is on for new treatments. Surgeries, pills, vaccines – we’re willing to try anything if it means putting an end to the suffering. But has science gone too far?
Here are five of the most controversial addiction treatments that beg the question, “Is this the best we can do?”
Methadone and Suboxone are opioids that have been well-studied and widely used to minimize withdrawal symptoms and cravings in opiate addicts. By removing addicts from the junkie lifestyle, these medications have been marketed as a solution to a life of crime, sickness, unemployment and poverty, with minimal side effects and a more affordable price tag than rehab.
Why the Controversy: Once believed to be a “cure” for opiate addiction, the drawbacks to these medications have become clear over time. Both medications are addictive and difficult to wean off of because of severe withdrawal symptoms. Although Suboxone is generally preferred over methadone because it reduces the risk of addiction and overdose and blocks the effects of other opiates, neither medication addresses the complex underlying causes of addiction. This means that counseling, self-help groups and other treatments are still essential for long-term success.
Resilience is a hallmark of good mental health. It is particularly important for recovering addicts who have learned how to survive but in negative ways – for example, by dissociating from childhood trauma or using drugs and alcohol to escape emotional pain.
An essential part of recovery is learning new tools that build resilience, which guards against the return of old, automatic behaviors that so often leads to relapse.
What Is Resilience?
Resilience is our ability to adapt to or bounce back from stress and adversity. Can you describe what you’re feeling, and can you respond to emotions in ways that alleviate your suffering without adding to it? People who score low on resilience typically do things that keep them stuck like dwelling on negative thoughts, avoiding other people, or using drugs, alcohol, shopping, gambling or other substances or behaviors to escape.
People who are resilient, by contrast, have the coping skills to manage life’s ups and downs with flexibility and a positive outlook.
The concept of an addict’s guilt may seem foreign and contradictory to a loved one. During active addiction, people lie, lose their jobs and bankrupt themselves or their families seemingly without a second thought (though they often do feel guilt but then use more drugs to bury those feelings).
When an addict gets sober, the guilt hits hard.
Guilt arises when a person feels that they have violated their morals or principles or fallen short of their personal expectations, resulting in harm to self or others. Although unpleasant, some degree of guilt in early recovery is a good sign. In fact, in some cases a lack of guilt can be a symptom of mental illness. If you’ve lied, put other people in danger, or committed crimes or other acts you’re not proud of, it’s healthy and natural to feel guilty.
In order to effectively manage guilt, you have to identify the type of guilt you’re up against. When guilt is a catalyst for a positive change in behavior, it is healthy guilt. Guilt can lead to empathy, or the consideration of how one’s actions affect other people, a skill that is critical for long-term addiction recovery. It also encourages people to hold themselves accountable for their actions and make amends for the harm they caused, which helps to ensure they don’t make the same mistakes again.
Addiction is not parents’ fault (about half the risk is genetic), but you can influence the course of your child’s life by helping them develop the skills that protect against addiction.
#1 Coping Skills
One of the most important goals in treating addiction is equipping addicts with effective coping skills. The skills they learned in childhood might have been tempered by difficult life events, or perhaps they never developed appropriate coping mechanisms at all.
In either case, a need to self-medicate anger, disappointment and other difficult emotions is one of the most common reasons people turn to drugs and alcohol.
By learning how to cope with the full range of emotions – both the ones that feel good and the ones that feel miserable – children become resilient. Coping skills can be as basic as proper self-care (diet, sleep and exercise) or healthy distraction (talking to a friend or taking a walk), or they can be as complex as learning to differentiate between the things we can control and those we cannot.
Ever feel like keeping your teen safe is a full-time job? That’s because it can be. Teenagers are programmed for risk-taking, according to research from Temple University. While the parts of the brain that control emotion and social interaction are highly active during adolescence, the behavior-regulation center doesn’t fully mature until around age 25.
This helps explain why the answers to timeless parental questions like, “If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you, too?” are a resounding yes!
All of this thrill-seeking means that even if your teen understands the dangers of drug use and “knows better,” they’re still at risk. Although the reasons for teen drug use are as complex as teenagers themselves, here are five of the most common reasons teens start using drugs, along with steps you can take to stop them in their tracks: