As the opioid epidemic continues to grow worse, more Americans view it as a serious problem.
A recent poll from the Associated Press-NORC found that more Americans view the opioid epidemic as a significant issue in their communities compared to two years ago. According to the poll, 43 percent of Americans say that the use of prescription opioids is an extremely or very serious problem in their communities, compared to 33 percent two years ago. Additionally, 37 percent say that heroin is an extremely or very serious concern in their locale, up from 32 percent in 2016.
While the poll shows a growing awareness of the opioid epidemic and increasing concern about opioid addiction in the community, unfortunately, the poll found that only 53 percent of Americans view addiction as a disease, and a full 44 percent believe that addiction shows a lack of willpower or discipline. Thirty-four percent of Americans believe that addiction is caused by a character defect or bad parenting.
Solving the opioid epidemic requires a better understanding addiction among the general public. Outdated and incorrect beliefs about addiction abound, and the stigma associated with addiction prevents many people who need help from seeking it.
Opioid Addiction: Disease or Defect?
The National Institutes of Health, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, the American Medical Association, and numerous other government and medical organizations stress that addiction is a disease of the brain, and that once it develops, choice, morality, and character have nothing to do with it.
Addiction is characterized by changes in the physical structures and chemical functions of the brain that affect thought and behavior patterns and lead to compulsive drug use despite the negative consequences it causes. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, once an addiction develops, good intentions and willpower are rarely enough to end the addiction for the long-term.
A lack of morality or self-discipline have little to do with the opioid crisis, which affects stay-at-home moms, physicians, police officers, teachers, religious leaders, CEOs, service members, and emergency medical personnel. It affects the ultra-rich, the middle class, and those living in poverty. Highly educated people become just addicted as those without an education, and people who come from strong, loving families can develop an addiction just as easily as those who come from unhappy roots. The opioid epidemic doesn’t discriminate, and addiction experts stress that addiction is not the result of moral bankruptcy or a widespread lack of willpower among those who are addicted.
The Underlying Causes of Addiction
Just as chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease often begin with unhealthy lifestyle choices, drug addiction begins with the choice to use drugs or to not use drugs. But once diabetes or heart disease or opioid addiction develop, choice is no longer a matter. At that point, it takes professional help to send the disease into remission and make the necessary lifestyle choices it takes to live a healthy, productive life despite the disease.
People who make the initial choice to abuse drugs often have underlying issues that leave them vulnerable to drug abuse and self-medicating with opioids. The most common are:
- Chronic stress. Many who use drugs take them in an attempt to reduce stress in their lives. Chronic stress can come from living with poverty or abuse, or it can result from medical or mental illness, the death of a loved one, divorce, job loss, or any number of other difficult life circumstances.
- A history of trauma. Childhood trauma and that which occurs later in life often leads to drug abuse as a way of coping. Common traumas include physical or sexual abuse, being a witness to or victim of violence, or surviving a catastrophic event like war, natural disaster, or a devastating accident. Trauma leads to symptoms like nightmares, intense feelings of fear or anger, flashbacks, and problems sleeping. Many trauma survivors turn to drugs to reduce the intensity of these symptoms and to help them sleep or cope with tremendously difficult memories and emotions.
- Mental illness. Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression often co-occur with addiction. The symptoms of these mental illnesses interfere with happiness, productivity, and life satisfaction and often cause intense suffering. Drugs, including heroin and opioid painkillers, can alleviate the symptoms of mental illness initially, although they almost always make mental illnesses worse in the long-run, further perpetuating the addiction.
Opioid Addiction Treatment Works
Experts know that willpower is powerless against addiction. Opioid addiction treatment is almost always needed to end an addiction for the long-term. Treating an opioid addiction requires a variety of traditional and complementary therapies that help individuals:
- Identify unhealthy thought and behavior patterns and replace them with healthier ways of thinking and behaving.
- Develop essential coping skills for handing stress, negative emotions, and cravings.
- Address the underlying issues that led to the drug abuse and addiction, including making peace with the past.
- Repair damaged relationships and restore function to the family unit.
- Find purpose and meaning in life without opioids.
- Learn how to relax and enjoy life without opioids.
Treatment is the key to ending opioid addiction and thus the opioid epidemic, according to most experts, including President Trump’s own opioid commission. Treatment helps individuals end an addiction for the long-term, and it can work for you or someone you love.
If you or a loved one needs help with abuse and/or treatment, please call the WhiteSands Treatment at (877) 855-3470. Our addiction specialists can assess your recovery needs and help you get the addiction treatment that provides the best chance for your long-term recovery.