No Silver Bullets for Addiction

Media attention and continued focus on the opiate crisis in America have done much to raise awareness among the general population about addiction. Virtually everyone is aware of or has been affected by addiction. The statistics alone are overwhelming:

  • An estimated 22 million Americans age 12 and older suffer from addiction, about one in every 11 people.
  • In the United States, one in four children is exposed to addiction at home.
  • More than 50 percent of adults have a close family member with a problem.
  • More than 11 percent of full-time workers have an alcohol problem in a given year.
  • In 2012, drug overdose was the leading cause of death among people 25 to 64 years old, more than motor vehicle traffic crashes.

The natural desire of concerned citizens everywhere is to find a fast solution to this massive problem. The sense of urgency is great; after all, people are dying every day. Science is making strides in discovering addiction’s effects on the brain and mapping out its probable genetic components. The medical field is creating powerful new drugs that can reverse the effects of an overdose almost instantly. Governments are rushing to change laws that make drug possession a criminal offense, attempting to place the emphasis on getting help rather than incarceration. Pastors are talking publicly about mental health and drug abuse issues with their congregations. And advocates are banging the drum steadily to keep the crisis at the forefront of public attention.

With a single shot of Naloxone (Narcan), we can now save the life of a heroin addict who has overdosed. We can block receptors in the brain of an addict with drugs like Vivitrol (Naltrexone) and Disulfiram (Antabuse). We can educate those impacted by addiction and their loved ones so they have a better understanding of how it affects cognitive behavior and decision making. Finally, we can ask addicts to participate in individual counseling sessions and group meetings, where the stories of others provide hope that recovery is not only possible but also experienced successfully by many.

In the midst of all this progress and attention, there is a rush to find a cure for addiction—a silver bullet that will make all these struggles go away. When we take a singular approach to solving addiction by focusing on one solution, we ignore the evidence of thousands of recovering individuals worldwide and likely commit those who seek recovery to failure. In other words, a silver-bullet approach to solving addiction is a continuation of the same acute care treatment model we’ve been offering addicts and their families for upwards of 50 years. It’s a medical model that has failed us miserably.

The American Society of Addiction Medicine puts it this way: “Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual

manifestations.” In a system of care for a chronic condition like diabetes, heart disease or asthma, we offer the affected individual referrals to specialists, facilities and counselors and provide follow-up services to assist the patient in their continued recovery. Why is addiction treated differently? Medical professionals would never consider releasing those with unmanaged diabetes or heart disease from the hospital after an episode, telling them to summon their willpower to overcome these conditions or giving them an outdated list of programs to consider.

The bottom line is this: It’s time to offer the same continuum of care to addiction patients that is offered to any other individual with a chronic condition.

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Navigate Recovery Gwinnett’s blog pro­vides gen­eral infor­ma­tion, personal reflections and dis­cus­sion about addiction, health care and related sub­jects. The con­tents of this blog, and in any linked mate­ri­als, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice. The blog’s content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified health provider with any questions you have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this website.