Disease of addiction makes quitting drug use difficult

Why can’t my son/daughter just quit taking the drugs? Don’t they know it is ruining their lives?

This is a question I hear over and over again from concerned family members, spouses and friends. It is reasonable to think, if you get hurt enough, get arrested enough or go to jail that you would finally learn your lesson and stop taking the drugs. What people don’t realize is the person has no control over their behavior — that is why they keep making the same mistakes over and over again.

The drug hijacked their normal reasoning into a compulsive need that is so overwhelming that drug use is all they can think about. No longer is it to get high, it is to keep from getting sick, to keep feeling all the mistakes they have made and the helplessness they have toward their addiction.

This hijacked brain doesn’t function like it did before addiction occurred. The circuits have been altered. It is like a virus in the computer; you push one key but the computer switches it to do something else and you don’t know how to fix it. If they could fix it they would have done it by now since it is ruining their lives.

Addiction used to be thought as a lack of moral integrity, a weakness, or just being too lazy to get a job. What scientists discovered is that addiction is a disease just like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease. They all have a genetic component that makes a person more susceptible to the disease, and they all have organs that are injured.

In diabetes the pancreas is injured; in COPD the lung is damaged; and in addiction the brain is altered to not function normally. The changes in the brain cause certain behaviors that the person has no control over. The very definition of addiction involves three core elements:

Severe cravings/compulsion for the drug

The person has lost control and is consumed with the need and urge to take the drug

The continued use of the drug despite associated negative consequences

I am disturbed by the amount of criticism from the public about all the “addicts” and the mounting costs that are consuming our community and state resources. Yet, I don’t see the same amount of bias toward diabetics who have eaten food/sugars/carbohydrates/fats to excess that caused their illness — and their numbers are escalating. Nor, do I see people critical of those who have COPD/lung cancer caused by years of smoking, or those with heart and circulation problems caused by excessive fat and cholesterol intake over the years. I never hear other people say it is too expensive to treat all the diabetic patients, COPD patients and those with heart and circulation problems.

Yet, I hear often from the public upset with the amount and cost of naloxone used to save a person from an overdose. They say, “Let them all die. They caused the problem; why should I have to pay for it?”

Unfortunately, the number of people affected by the disease of addiction is growing. You can complain about all those worthless people — until one of those worthless people becomes your son or daughter, sister or brother caught in the trap of addiction. Then you get a new perspective — the need to find a way to help bring the person back to a fully productive life.

Dr. Theodora Saddoris is an internal medicine specialist in Columbus who also has been treating addiction locally since 2014. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.