Tens of thousands of people are dying every year due to opioid overdose, and millions more remain alive, yet are slaves to opioids. They use them daily despite significant negative consequences.
Here in America, it is really bad.
And while there is a superabundance of treatment programs and self-help groups, people are still staying sick in their addictions far more than they are getting better after seeking professional help.
Recently, a woman with an opiate addiction wrote me the following comment:
This experience has shaken me and I think that I have grown in compassion and self-knowledge. Reading your columns has convicted me that I need to care for myself better, beginning with my brain. It has also lifted the veil on how easily people become addicted and how, had I not had the support that I have, and the anger at drugs due to being raised by addicts, I may have been pulled in very easily, just to avoid the pain of w/d.
I can guarantee you, average middle class, middle age people like me may have no idea how quickly dependence occurs. If we did understand, things might change. But blaming addicts without listening is a national past time. My eyes are opened.”
After reading this woman’s comment, I felt compelled to write more than I usually do when responding to a reader. After writing her, I reread my comment and realized I should turn my words into a blog post.
So here it is…
A freeflow blog post on what I have deemed the Ignorance Epidemic.
Table of Contents
The Ignorance Epidemic
Addicts are easy to look at with disgust because their behavior is typically selfish and without caring about negative consequences to them or others, even loved ones. So any normal person’s first response is to think it’s some kind of moral deficiency.
In reality, human brain research and research with rats have proven otherwise. Addiction doesn’t happen in the prefrontal cortex, which is the area responsible for discerning the difference between right and wrong. While it’s a very complicated process and description, a simple way to think of it is by likening it to the following metaphor:
Addiction is like driving a car without brakes. You very well may want to stop, but without brakes, you cannot. Research has proven that addiction actually bypasses the prefrontal cortex’s right/wrong decision-making abilities, and the midbrain, which is the primitive brain that is responsible for keeping us alive (survival) is where addiction resides primarily.
True Drug Dependency
Everyone has probably heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. First, you need water, food, and shelter, then when you have that you focus on relationships and fun, and love, and finally some people, which are rare, focus on becoming “Self-Actualized.”
Unfortunately, after a person has been using opioids for a few months or longer, whether prescribed under the care of a doctor or not, a person’s brain can not only become dependent upon opioids, but it can also link “survival itself” to the opioid drugs.
To an Experimental User, a Recreational User, or a Drug Abuser, the drug is just the drug.
However, once a person crosses the line and becomes an Addict, again, even if they are taking opioids prescribed for pain, the drug is no longer a drug. Here is how the Survival Hierarchy works with an opioid addict, numbered in importance.
- Food and water
- Etc etc
And when a person’s midbrain links survival to the drug and their prefrontal cortex’s ability to think about consequences and care about consequences is not a part of the process, now a drug addict’s rather “dirtbagish” behaviors are more easily understood.
Now a person can realize that drug addicts are typically not dirtbags and thieves intrinsically.
Like my mentor says, “Drugs are physical substances causing physical damage to a physical organ, the brain. And how do we normally treat addicts? With group therapy and spiritual counseling. Doesn’t make sense, does it?” – Dr. Charles Gant.
Ignorance is NOT Bliss
I’m all for therapy and spirituality, however, it’s a scientific fact that drugs destroy healthy neurotransmission, and in the case of opioids, taking them daily for even a month or longer, and especially for 6 months or longer, leads to a huge deficiency in the brain’s ability to create endorphins and dopamine naturally. Two very important neurotransmitters for mental health and wellness.
I think there is a bigger epidemic than the current opioid epidemic which started two decades ago when the inventors of OxyContin lied to thousands of doctors and said OxyContin wasn’t addictive.
The bigger epidemic is an epidemic of ignorance. Drug addiction treatment facilities, doctors, and even self-help groups spanning the entire breadth and depth of America have focused all of their efforts on trying to get drug addicts to “behave” better.
Somehow most (but not all) of these “professionals” don’t even have the slightest clue as to where addiction works in the brain and where it doesn’t, and furthermore, if you bring up the topic of healing the brain with supplements or other “snake oil” remedies, you’ll typically get laughed at.
When a person recently gets off opioids and feels horrible, if they go to traditional treatment, they’ll get informed they need to go to more self-help meetings or pray to their Higher Power. I think all of that stuff is truly awesome, and it’s all helped me a lot, but the main reason I was finally able to quit and feel good, was because a family friend knew I just got off heroin and sent me a few bottles of some combo supplements that were formulated to increase dopamine, endorphins, GABA, and serotonin naturally.
All of a sudden I started to feel really good, even though all of the times I tried to get off opiates or opioids in the past, I felt tired, depressed, and unmotivated for months after quitting.
I tried AA meeting for many years, and not once did I ever learn there were a few key nutrients that I could consume which would totally eliminate cravings, while also providing mental health, feelings of well-being and not needing drugs to feel good, etc.
Thus, the “Ignorance Epidemic” far surpasses the magnitude of the opioid epidemic. And I can guarantee you more people are dying from the ignorance of doctors and addiction professionals than are dying from their “poor behavior” and inability to demonstrate moral fiber.
They teach kids in high school 3 years of math, that unless they’re going to become an engineer or math teacher, or architect, or work in some career where they need math, they will just forget most of what they learned, or remember it but never use it.
It starts with the education system, which is based on learning criteria to help students pass certain assessments and tests, and is not preparing people for the “real” world.
If they simply made 7th grade and 8th grade students take one semester of “Addiction Prevention,” which was taught with a method of truth, then if someone hands them a beer, a Vicodin, a Percocet, or any other drug, now they will know that taking that drug daily would lead to tolerance, dependence, addiction, brain changes that are long-term and difficult and timely to correct, and so on and so forth.
But instead, they learn years and years worth of mathematics. While there have been drug prevention programs in the past and perhaps even currently, they’re not that effective. Me and pretty much all of my friends who went through the DARE program turned out to be alcoholics, heroin addicts, pill addicts, and more.
Then when a student graduates, in their real adult life they may get a sports injury, or suffer from migraines. They go to the doctor, and what happens?
A prescription for opiate or opioid painkillers.
Does the doctor tell them that if they take it for a month or longer, then stop abruptly, they will go into opioid withdrawal around 12 hours after their last dose?
Do they tell them that taking the painkillers for a month or longer will lead to short-term or long-term biochemical deficiencies that can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more?
Do they make you watch a 10-minute instructional video at the pharmacy before you get these powerful opioid painkillers informing you on what can possibly happen if you take them for a month or longer?
Does the doctor give you a pamphlet explaining this?
Does the pharmacy provide you with an educational pamphlet other than the one in small print with a long list of side effects?
The Real Epidemic
The epidemic is not with drug addicts not wanting to stop using drugs. The epidemic is a shitty educational system lacking an early drug prevention program with research-proven stats that it’s effective (America is one of the worst in the world studies have proven), a shitty medical school process where they don’t teach doctors more than a 4-hour class on addiction or nutrition (this is what doctors themselves have told me), and then you have the thousands or maybe tens of thousands of drug treatment programs where most of the people that work there haven’t the slightest clue about how addiction works, and for the past 75 years or so their main strategy for helping people recover is to tell them the key is to go to regular self-help meetings, group counseling, and practice relapse prevention techniques.
75 years of this same style of treatment, and there is still a 95% failure rate. People that work in traditional treatment keep saying: “the addict just isn’t ready to get clean yet.”
But my belief is “the addict has just not been provided with an effective and holistic treatment plan and recovery system that incorporates the body, mind, and spirit, with healing the addicted brain as being the foundation of treatment upon which all else is built.”