Is the saturation of addiction in our society the new norm? Are there answers?
Last week, a dear friend’s son who is a recovered addict, went to the hospital for help with legitimate pain. The doctor unnecessarily prescribed opioids, and two days ago he died of an accidental overdose. This week, another dear friend flew to be with her family as her highly successful brother was on life support with little brain activity following his sixth overdose. He died yesterday. A psychologist at my office lost his son to alcoholism last year. A new client told me that she was prescribed opioids following a hip surgery, got addicted, and is now working to get herself off of opioids using medically prescribed Suboxone. And, most of you know I have a family member who has struggled with addiction for fifteen years and relapsed last August. Each relapse is darker, and for the first time, suicide was openly discussed.
In 2015, US opiate prescriptions were three times higher than in 1999, and the US has by far the highest drug overdose death rate in the world. What used to be a family disease has exploded into a national disease.
Why the U.S.? Why us?
The question I ask still myself and as a country together we must ask is, “Why the US?”
With just 4 percent of the world’s population, why do we consume 85% of the world’s prescription opiates? And why does the US account for about 27 percent of the world’s drug overdose deaths? Prescribed opioids have earned billions for the maker’s billionaire Sackler family and many doctors have been handsomely rewarded to prescribe them over the last 30 odd years, while knowing that opioids cause addiction. But, what is it in our society that drives us to heavily medicate not just our physical but our emotional pain too? I don’t know why we can’t stop doctors from recklessly prescribing these drugs for pain. I do know that solving this tragedy requires solutions that we don’t even know yet. Until then, the loss and death will continue to devastate our country. The CDC reports that since the year 2000, 300,000 lives have been lost due to this epidemic.
Is addiction a learning disability?
The book Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction revisits a hundred and fifty year old theory that addiction is a learning disability, a learned, self-destructive way of regulating uncomfortable emotions.
Does our country have a learning disability in how we handle pain?
I think so, yes. In my experience, we are not taught how to ride the waves of unbearably intense physical and emotional pain. Our cultural assumption, especially in medicine and psychiatry, is that pain is bad and narcotics and anti-depressive/anti-anxiety pills that block pain are good.* 5 of the top 10 reasons for doctor visits are pain alleviation.
What do we do to help our addicted loved ones, their families, and our country?
We need to make handling pain in a healthy way a national priority and prescribe narcotics the way the rest of the world does, for extreme cases, cancer and near death. We must commit to teaching young and old alike that intense emotions like loss, anger, craving, fear, and depression are normal, and horrible to experience, but will pass and can be alleviated without drugs. We can learn to ride these waves of emotions and not let them build up to a breaking point.
What 3 tools can we use right now to help heal the addiction crisis?
My philosophy is that when you have a major issue to solve, you need to address it from many different levels of consciousness and understanding.
1 Support and expand proven programs and methods like these:
• The spiritually based 12-Step programs. They are the most successful programs for addicts, but as a stand alone program, it’s rate of success is statistically low 5 – 10%. For 80% of addicts, the spiritual approach is not enough. What is not widely known is that AA’s founder, Bill Wilson, suffered with depression after becoming sober. He successfully treated his depression nutritionally and wanted to include nutrition within the 12-Step program. However, by that point, he had relinquished control of AA, which took a group consensus and chose to keep AA a purely spiritual approach to sobriety. (I know from personal experience with the 12-Step program, Al-Anon, that the steps work and I believe that provides is solid base of education and support for healing addictions and also healing the trauma that families of addicts and alcoholics face.)
• Test for and correct nutritional and hormonal deficiencies. Low Vitamin D and hypothyroidism are major causes of anxiety and depression for example and when corrected can even alleviate physical pain.
• Fund more residential programs and detox facilities so that every addict who sincerely seeks help can receive it.
2 Rewire and restore the brain, educate children to embrace and handle their emotions in healthy ways
“Addiction hijacks the brain’s neural pathways,” meaning the brain of an addict is rewired to respond to every stress with a mind altering substance. The brain needs to be restored and rewired to respond to intense emotions in a healthy way, where the prefrontal cortex can input long term benefits and consequences of abstinence, overriding the reflexive, impulsive immediate gratification signaling of the brain. Here are proven ways to restore full brain function and dramatically reduce the addictive craving.
• TFT, Thought Field Therapy’s anxiety, addiction and craving tapping sequences email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn TFT
• Learn to master emotions so they don’t become the driving force in life. Learn TFT, EMDR, meditation, yoga, etc. to effectively discharge feelings before they overwhelm and drive one to drugs.
The downside to the above techniques is that these are effective as long as the addict is not using. Therefore, these are best used while in a residential treatment program and continued after release. I have trained two drug counselors who successfully use TFT in their rehab clinics and Kundalini and other yogas are used in clinics across the country. In treatment programs the rewiring of the brain must be made a priority.
3 Remain open to the possibility of healing and make this tragedy count for something.
As a country, let’s determine to learn all we can about ourselves and rewire our thinking so that the next time we hurt terribly we ask ourselves not, how do I get out of this? but, how do I release myself from this in a loving way that empowers me so I never have to fear pain again? Let’s take responsibility for our emotions, learn to use them, master them and as a country, value mastery of emotions. Then, no matter how much profit there is in prescription pain medications, we turn them down without fear.
* Twice in my life doctors and therapists tried to medicate me out of pain. In 1981 I chose natural childbirth to deliver my daughter, which includes breathing through the pain. Baffled, my ob-gyn told me, “I don’t know why mothers would choose to go through that pain when we have pain-free delivery possible.”
After a failed rape attempt by a man hiding in the female bathroom at the office I was working in at the time, I was uncontrollably shaking in shock. A therapist approached me and asked if I’d like to take some of his Valium to stop the shaking. I declined, telling him, “I think I am supposed to feel this way.”
Years later I was with a friend at the doctor’s office. The female doctor said that she took antidepressants and that most doctors did too. She didn’t understand why one would decline medication for emotions.