Addiction or drug abuse is a malfunctioning of the brain’s reward system, but that is not the only part of the brain that drug abuse affects.
Heroin allows the brain to saturate itself with dopamine. Because of this, dopamine receptors will decrease their sensitivity and even kill off certain receptors in order to protect from the incredible amount of the neurotransmitter.
When a heroin addict begins to abstain from their drug of choice, it does not mean that the brain automatically goes back to normal. Most of the time severe damage has been done and it will take months, even years to fully recover.
So, even with the clear scientific data showing that the brains of addicts are not functioning as fully as they could be, why do we shame and ridicule addicts if they relapse?
We need to look at and talk about addiction as a brain disease. Till then, we will be unable to have intelligent and productive conversations about the drug epidemic in our country. When someone experiences a relapse of hypertension (high blood pressure) we do not get angry with them. We do not say, “How could you do this to us?” We might be worried about that individual’s health and help them with a new diet, but we would not call them “weak” or shame them.
Addiction is no different.
When 40 to 60 percent of people are relapsing with this disease, it is not because they want to. Many individuals who have fought hard for their recovery and other’s recovery will fall into the grips of their addiction at one time or another. It is our job to stand with them, and continue to help them fight against the dangerous and deadly disease of addiction.
Drug addiction has serious consequences. It can rip apart your family life and cause legal troubles that last for years, something that cannot necessarily be said for other diseases such as hypertension.
These consequences have placed a seemingly unbreakable stigma on drug addiction, keeping individuals from seeking treatment, shaming those that do and causing some to blame addicts for something as uncontrollable as a relapse.
A relapse does not mean you have no chance at recovery. A relapse is an opportunity for friends, loved ones and professionals to come to your aid and help you back to your feet again. It is not our job to ridicule and shame those struggling with their battle.
We owe it to our friends and loved ones who are struggling with relapse to learn more about their condition, and know that their sickness is not who they are.
So, stop throwing stones and kicking those who are down. We at AMIRF will not stand for it. If you would like more education on the disease of the addiction, please contact us. We would be happy to help you understand.
—Images used in blog taken from drugabuse.gov