A recent publication about the Alcohol, Drug Addiction & Mental Health Services Board (ADM ) was completed by Akron Life Magazine. It includes stories about recovery, education for the next generation, a local resources recovery guide, and what you can do to help. The following article, “Understanding Addiction,” is from the Recovery It’s Worth the Fight, edition.
Fighting a public health issue like opiate addiction takes cooperation. Organizations must come together at the local, state, and national levels to help prevent and reduce substance abuse in communities. At the local level, there are many initiatives to inform and assist Summit County residents trying to help loved ones stay safe.
“People can and do recover. The recovery movement offers a valuable opportunity for people with substance use disorders and their loved ones to get the support they need to gradually return to a healthy and productive life away from the destructive impact of substance use.” Excerpt from “Facing Addiction in America,” The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, 2016.
Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy
In his landmark report, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy reminds us that we need to change how our society views substance use disorders and addiction. He anticipates that negative social attitudes, stigma and judgement associated with addiction can change just as it has for cancer and HIV—now regarded by many as health conditions absent shame and discrimination. He urges us all to see addiction and substance use disorders not as character flaws, but as chronic illness, like diabetes and heart disease.
Addiction is a brain disease, not a sign of human weakness or inherent immorality. All highly addictive drugs, e.g. alcohol, cocaine and opiates, affect the reward system and pleasure center in every human brain. Areas of the brain responsible for judgement and decision making are also negatively impacted. Due to genetic variation, some individuals’ brains are more highly affected than others, leading to the disease of addiction. Per the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.
Fortunately, scientific evidence proves that treatment is effective and that, when paired with lifestyle changes and ongoing support, people with the disease can recover and live healthy, productive lives.
How are Prescription Pain Meds Connected to Heroin?
Prescription pain medicine and heroin are in the same family of drugs called opiates and opioids. These drugs are prescribed by doctors to relieve pain. However, they also affect the pleasure center of the brain and, for some, may produce a state of well-being and euphoria. All opiates can lead to the disease of addiction. With continued use, any person taking opiate medications will develop tolerance, where they require increasing amounts to achieve the desired effect. Over time, the individual will also develop a physical dependence. Both tolerance and dependence occur naturally in every human. For some individuals, though—those whose genes set the stage for the disease of addiction—opiate/opioid use causes brain changes that hijack the survival instinct, which resides in structures deep within the brain. When this occurs, the “need” for the drug can become the driving force in that person’s life. When access to the prescribed pain medication runs out, the person with the
addiction looks for other options. This may include buying illicit pain medication or switching to heroin, which is typically easily available and inexpensive. Coupled with tolerance and dependence, the drive to use more opiates/opioids can be lethal without treatment.
Signs of Opiate Addition
Oftentimes, family and friends don’t know how to tell if someone is addicted to prescription pills or heroin. Here are some potential signs that may indicate someone is struggling with an opiate addiction:
• Isolation from loved ones and social events
• Continued use of prescribed opiates, even after pain has subsided
• Deceitful or illegal behaviors to obtain additional prescriptions or greater quantities of the drug
• Decline in overall performance in work, school, or social life
• Frequently nodding off in inappropriate circumstances
• Complaint of physical symptoms, such as cramping, diarrhea, itchy skin, joint and muscle pain, nausea and vomiting, anxiety, insomnia, headaches
• Neglect of personal hygiene, changes in eating habits, or ill-looking appearance
“We Are the Future of Summit County” – a series of ten public service announcements dedicated to preventing addiction and ending the heroin epidemic made by sixteen Summit County youth.
If you or a loved one is exhibiting any of these signs and you suspect an addiction to opiates, please seek assistance from a medical professional.