This morning, the article “A Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered and It’s Not What You Think”, caught my eye. As the founder and CEO of a nonprofit that provides both educational and recovery services for people struggling with addiction, I was intrigued. The sudden influx of information and questions from the media and individuals has struck me lately, as the general public seems to have started to notice a phenomenon that we at Sober Living America are quite aware of: drug abuse and addiction is on the rise, and something needs to be done. I was encouraged when I saw this title- since I am aware of how badly insightful information on this epidemic is needed, and how often the information being shared lacks the insight and depth required to fill that gap.
I commend Johann Hari for his interest in and dedication to finding answers about addiction. Currently, over 23 million Americans struggle with addiction (according to SAMSHA)- that breaks down to one in 12 in our society. As Johann pointed out, his interest was driven by personal experiences, and witnessing others in his life who struggled, and his discovery is quite insightful. At Sober Living America, we have developed an educational program called the Friends Care Campaign- which focuses on not only providing addiction awareness and education for young adults, but also to provide helpful tips and techniques for friends and loved ones to help that individual in need. Mr. Hari’s explanation for addictive behavior proved both insightful and compelling- and was, what I considered, a positive step in the direction of helping further explain addictive behavior. Johann Hari’s argument states that addicts are driven into addiction not by the chemical components of drugs and alcohol, but predominantly by loneliness, isolation, and unhappiness. I would like to elaborate further on the discoveries we have made about addictive behavior and the cause of addiction we at Sober Living America are striving to share, which I believe is desperately needed in society right now.
In his article, Mr. Hari states that people often leave hospitals after weeks of opiate drug use unharmed and not suffering any symptoms of addiction. This is most often the case. However, more and more individuals are finding themselves addicted to prescription medications, and a lack of education of this risk is contributing to this epidemic. Over 52 million Americans admit to abusing prescription medications (drugabuse.org), and over 15 million people struggle with prescription pill addiction, more than that of meth and heroine combined (drugfreeworld.org). In fact, the current rise in heroine addiction we are experiencing can in part be attributed to the fact that heroine is actual cheaper and easier to find for these opiate-prescription addicted individuals, and many turn to it after their doctors become suspicious of their habits. Unfortunately- the claim that people can use prescription pills long term risk free is occasionally incorrect and, in fact, has had a tremendous impact on our society over the past few years.
Sober Living America has served over 50,000 individuals in our 20 year tenure, through five facilities in the Southeast. Currently, we serve over 2,000 families a year. Many of our residents come from wonderful, loving homes. They have parents, spouses, and often children. Individuals struggling with drug addiction cannot be singularly defined- since addiction affects individuals in all walks of life, with all backgrounds, education levels, and experiences. Most of the people who come to stay at our facilities have people in their lives that love and care about them, and that desperately want them to return home. Despite their supportive environments, many of the people who come to Sober Living America do find themselves isolated and depressed as a consequence of their addiction- because their habits have caused them to isolate from friends and family to avoid suspicion. Mr. Hari’s writings actually support one of the most important tenets in which SLA was founded: that recovery is greatly impacted by having safe, sober living accommodations, and being surrounded by the positive influence and support of your peers. Many of our residents consider their apartment mates their second family- and their accountability and encouragement make continued sobriety possible.
While Mr. Hari makes some excellent points in his article, I would argue that we must take our exploration of the cause of addiction a bit further. The further cause of addiction is how an individual responds to alcohol, prescription pills, and other drugs. One in 12 people have the predisposition to lose control when they drink alcohol or engage in other drug behavior. Mr. Hari is correct that we cannot just ‘blame’ the chemical makeup of these drugs- though heroine and meth are highly addictive. If this were true, no one would be able to drink socially or use prescription pain pills for chronic pain or recovery. However- one in 12 of us has a distinct reaction when we engage in this behavior- and the signs and symptoms of this are prevalent at an early age. We have all seen someone in our lives that displays some unique characteristics when drinking out with friends or engaging in drug use. For example:
– Friends who black out regularly when drinking.
– Friends who only want to engage in behaviors socially when drinking or drug use is involved.
– Friends who abuse their prescription pills, or other’s prescriptions.
– Friends who make poor decisions, who engage in risky behavior, or who display unusual behavior when drunk or high.
– Friends who keep drinking or using long after others have stopped, friends who must continue until they have completely lost control.
These actions are often witnesses by friends during the high school or college years, when people begin to experiment with alcohol and drugs. However- a friend that displays these behaviors early on may be one that could fall into the trappings of alcoholism or drug addiction, especially if they are exposed to more addictive substances like meth, heroine, or prescription pills.
People are often shocked when a loved one or friend becomes an addict. However- there are signs we can look for, and ways that we can make a difference. Mr. Hari’s his observations were correct- people who are addicted often hide this from their friends and family members, and may isolate themselves as a result. However- if we are all informed and educated on what to look for, and if we change the harmful, derogatory stigmas we have created about addiction in society, we can help prevent our friends from letting addiction take over their lives. Or, if we are too late- we can give them the love and support they need to find recovery. Making a difference takes awareness, education, understanding, and love.
For more information on the Friends Care Campaign Addiction Awareness Program, please visit www.SoberLivingAmerica.org, or if you have a friend who needs help now, call us at 404.634.4974.