When it comes to substance abuse, we should be seeking all possible avenues to help address what amounts to a life and death situation for thousands of individuals in Rhode Island, and many more afflicted people outside of our state’s border.
Scientifically, we are learning more and more about the processes that contribute to addiction. There is a section of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, more commonly known as the brain’s pleasure center, which releases a torrent of dopamine when recreational drugs are administered to the system. The brain’s memory component, the hippocampus, catalogs this pleasurable feeling and urges our prefrontal cortex, which is our brains “engine” responsible for driving behavior, to seek out that feeling again, and again.
Everybody is different at a microbiological level, meaning that no two addictions are the same and no two paths to addiction are identical. Some people develop severe addictions after several years of being functional in their daily responsibilities while using drugs, and others are “hooked” after one or two doses. Further, some people are genetically hardwired to be more susceptible towards addictive behavior than others.
People can be addicted to everything from caffeine to heroin, but the underlying mechanism is relatively similar – our systems become wired so that our logical brain is overridden by the physical brain’s desire for a chemical-based euphoria. Sometimes these addictions result in being irritable before your morning cup, and with more dangerous drugs they can result in fatal overdoses.
To deal with specifically the opioid issue at the most reactive level, we now have an incredibly powerful tool in Narcan. This lifesaving drug is increasing in availability throughout the state. It has already saved lives and will continue to do so as more first responders and healthcare facilities begin to train in its administering and carry it with them at all times.
However wonderful this advancement is, it is also known that Narcan is not the silver bullet to end addiction – and there likely exists no such panacea to this epidemic. The causal elements of substance abuse reach deep into many areas of our society that are economical, societal, sociological and even existential in nature.
Nobody says as a kid that they want to grow up to become a drug addict. Some thing or combination of things happen along the road that creates an addict, and to remedy these causes will require a comprehensive look at how we raise children in our society and support them throughout their lives.
Thankfully, at least in Rhode Island, the public perception of addiction has largely changed from a personal failing to a mental affliction. No longer is it acceptable to simply lock addicts away with criminals and chalk them up to being another lost cause. The Warwick Police Department actively works within the community to identify addictive behavior within the populace and work with them to get them into life-saving treatment programs. They have a full-time mental health liaison on staff to provide a necessary perspective to responding officers as well.
The people who perform these services for addicts – detox, counseling and everything associated with these fields – are angelic in their devotion. They work and strive to give those who may feel as though they have nothing left to live for find a renewed hope and a reason to keep going. Any number of these people who may have been left behind in decades past may instead go on and become forces of positive change in our world.
Another element of recovery that can’t be understated is the ability to find something to believe in. While this publication would never advocate for converting to any one particular religion, there is something to be said about finding spirituality in one form or another that means something to the individual who could benefit from such higher forms of thought.
Advocates for addiction recovery in East Greenwich understand this concept and are putting together a forum at the First Baptist Church of East Greenwich this upcoming Wednesday evening to spread the word – not of salvation from eternal damnation in the afterlife by praying a particular way, but of salvation in our Earthly realm by simply believing in something bigger; in a higher purpose for which we can strive to live for.
Too often we confuse religiosity with spiritualism. Being spiritual can mean you never step foot in a church. Being spiritual can mean simply looking up at a clear night sky and getting lost in the wondrous possibilities of the cosmos. People can find spirituality in a sunrise, or in the way a tree’s branches extend in the same way our blood vessels expand within our bodies. We can even find spirituality in scientific advances, such as the ones which may further unravel the mysteries of our own being.
Addiction can create a cloudy haze that inhibits our ability to see the magnificence of our own unlikely surroundings. Through connections with people that care, and an inner search for your own unique blend of spirituality, of meaning, we can hope to penetrate that haze with a renewed light of hope.