Thursday 29 January 2015

Confusing Times for the Addict

Above artwork credit to an amazing artist I was just shown named Pawel Kuczynski.

There are people around you right now suffering from addiction.  People who took their Doctor's recommendations and filled the prescription for the pain killer or the anxiety aid.  Some of them started the script weeks ago, while others could possibly be on these meds for years.  I for one, was on pharmaceutical antidepressants on and off from 19 to 36.  When I finally decided I wanted off of them, I was addicted. The receptors in my brain very quickly became pissed at me when they weren't getting whatever was in those tiny granules of "medicine".

Zap zap ... zzzz zz zzzzzz zap!  That's what the DT's sounded and felt like ... in my brain.

Addictions don't only come from scripts though.  Alcohol is highly addictive yet treated as a rite of passage.  While perhaps it should be treated as a poison that for some of us hooks us forevermore.
Imagine our brains are big bodies of water full of fishies.  Most of the fishies in most of the bodies of water are normal, but there are a few bodies of water that hide sharks there too.  Who's brain is hungry-like-the-shark for addictive substances? Well you can't see from outside.  Would you initiate that first sip of wine or beer if you knew that action might be stirring the sleeping beast of addiction?

As a kid growing up in a small town I knew what an alcoholic was.  I knew several of them.  How many times did I ask my folks why those people can't stop after only having one?  I had heard the wagon analogy so often, but never understood it.  Were you drinking while you were ON the wagon? Or was it OFF the wagon? I remember thinking, but you gotta get to the bar somehow, so wouldn't that mean you had to be on the wagon?  Oh so much to understand for a child who had no clue what it meant to be addicted to anything but summertime and sunshine.

Is there any one of you out there who doesn't know or love an addict?  It's been said that Cancer is always in us at all times, it just hasn't gone rogue.  So by that same logic, could one say that addiction too is in every one of us?  We all have the ability to be addicted.  If you have a brain with firing receptors, then you have the ability to become addicted.

Still stigma exists.
Colouring all with one judgemental brush.

We've all heard the jokes:

"How do you know when an addict is lying?  Their lips are moving."

But does that include me?  Am I included in that if it was Doctor prescribed? Does it include the kid who was allowed to drink too young?  Does it apply to the kid who is predisposed in-vitro?  Does it apply to those of us with mental illness who are just trying desperately to numb the sadness inside?
And if not, then why are we thrown to the wolves once the hook is set?

I haven't researched this a lot, but there's a new pill called Seboxone for functional addicts of synthetic heroin.  It's kinda like methadone I think.  A buddy bought some from a buddy in hopes of knocking the monkey off of his back. He ended up not getting enough because buddy couldn't part with them. Apparently, in order to get it in my area, you have to be in withdrawal for four days.

Do we hold back a diabetic's insulin after they eat the wrong thing?
Do we hold back the nitroglycerin when the heart patient over does it?
Do we hold back the inhaler when the asthmatic has an attack?
Do we hold back the statins when the patient eats too much bacon?
Do we hold back the blood pressure meds when the patient eats too much salt?

No we don't.  Because to society at large, those are diseases.  While addiction is not.
Even to this day, to most of society, addiction is a fault.

Where does that come from?  What influences us to see this disease as a weakness and not a treatable though chronic condition?  Confusion perhaps!  In one week, the media has managed to confuse even myself on this topic.  And all in a week that is given to addiction awareness.

The first national summit on addiction recovery was held this week in Ottawa.  You can read about it in this link.  Here, signatures were gathered in order to raise the level of care for addiction treatment and awareness to that of other chronic illnesses.

That's a proud Canadian moment.  Why the confusion?

Enter Debra Selkirk and the Trillium Gift of Life Network.  Debra is a widower who's husband was a functioning alcoholic with a successful life.  He was a father and a grandfather and he was an addict. Trillium has a rule that an alcoholic must be sober for at least six months before they will be considered eligible for a liver donation.  Debra is angry to say the least.  Two weeks after hearing those rules, her husband was dead of liver failure.  Here is the CBC coverage of the story.  Debra is taking the case to a constitutional challenge.

I reserve judgement on the above policy taken by Trillium.  What I do take judgement on is more the belief or backwards thinking that would drive a Medical professional to say these words out loud:

"The last thing we want is someone to get a new liver and start damaging that liver by drinking alcohol again."

And yes ... I do see this from that perspective too.  I mean, that waiting list sits at a few hundred right now.  But it wreaks of ignorance from the angle that addiction takes away one's personal responsibility and therefore one's ability to stop.  Marilu Henner spoke about the very realness of food addiction with this statement:

"It may be your choice to take that first bite.  But once you do, that food has an agenda of it's own."

So let's look at that.  Let's look at why a person would take that first bite, drink, puff, pill, deal, bet.
If you know you have this predisposition, why do it?

Well I'd like to turn this around a bit and ask law makers, advertising regulators, and health agencies:

Why are you advertising in big bright lights, all the things that we can become addicted to?
Why are you allowing them to make poison look, smell, and taste so good?
Why do you still allow food manufacturing that seeks the "bliss point"?

Holy shit ... is this yet another post about capitalism then?

So is it all out of our control?  If our brains or 'bodies of water' have those sharks in them, are we sentenced--through no fault of our own-- to a life of constant struggle and a feeling of perpetual deprivation?  Is there nothing that loved ones and family can do?  No void that we can fill with love and acceptance?

Yes ... I and others believe there is, and there are studies to back us up :)

Check out this article here to see what I mean.  Author Johann Hari writes very compellingly showing that perhaps addiction is 'the symptom of a social ill' rather than a biological certainty.
Using rats and water bottles of either cocaine water or heroin water, studies showed that reversing solitude and a disconnection from 'the pack' trumped the biological need felt for the drugged water.

The above is an illustration of "Rat Park", the enclosure with all of the amenities a rat could want in life ... along with his pack.

He goes on to liken the Vietnam War to that experiment, stating the fact that 95% of the heroin addicted Vietnam vets came home to kick the habit.  Was the void filled once they were back in the family fold?  Is our disconnection to one another driving addiction rates?

Some of us still look at addicts as though looking at another sub-species.  We are separate from them. But are we?  If you took an Oxycontin every day for 10 days your biology, your cells will be addicted too.  That would make you just like those you see so far from you.  They are by your side begging for you to see through the stigma.

Build connections ... they help.

"So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety.  It is human connection." -Johann Hari

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