How many of us truly understand what happens to the body and brain with addictions? I attended an eye-opening conference in May on substance use disorders that gave me additional insight into the physical basis of substance use disorders. The conference opened with speakers providing information
on the changes in the brain that occur with addiction. Sessions highlighted how people with substance use disorders are NOT choosing to continue their lives this way, but changes in the addict’s brain chemistry make it very challenging to get free of addiction. When addiction occurs physical changes take place in the chemical pathways in the brain and body and receptors also change in quantity and quality. Even genetics begin to change over time and with continued generational addiction we are making it harder and harder for our future generations, our children and grandchildren, to be able to adequately
combat this disease. In other words, addicts can’t simply just “get over it” or simply “move on.”
We also learned that fear of withdrawal is the biggest reason for continued use for many addicts. We were challenged to imagine going through the worst flu, topped with the worst head cold, and then add those symptoms the worst stomach bug we have ever had in our lives. These are the kinds of withdrawal symptoms addicts face when they want to quit and these can be very frightening.
During the five day conference speakers highlighted that substance use disorders should be treated like other diseases and that proper treatment can address the physical changes that happen with addictions and help to minimize the painful, physical challenges of addiction withdrawal. Someone can’t decide one day they don’t want to have diabetes anymore and just “get over it” with this decision. Neither can addicts. Proper medication and lifestyle changes are needed in order to be able to control the disease of substance use disorder along with lots of support, education, and patience. Disease is hard for everyone, including those with substance use disorders. Let’s make a commitment to educate ourselves and to learn more about the physical basis of substance use disorders in order to create healthy homes, families, workplaces, and communities.