By NANCY STEPHANI
The opiate epidemic in our country, state and community is depressing. But there are reasons to hope. I attended a neurology conference several months ago where medical experts were optimistic.
We are Americans. We conquered polio. We have a handle on the AIDS crisis, and we will get the better of the current opiate epidemic.
There are some wonderful books that explain the current problem and how we got here.
“Dreamland,” by Sam Quinones, explains how we got here and why the issue is so difficult to combat. “Hillbilly Elegy,” by J.D. Vance, tells a personal story and connects the current crisis to ACE scores — Adverse Childhood Experiences. The higher an ACE score, the more likely a person is to suffer from addiction and a host of other health and social issues.
Watch for more about this in next week’s column.
Finally, Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of addiction sciences at the University of Tennessee College of Medicine, describes addiction as “compulsive comfort-seeking behavior.” Harvard researcher and clinician Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., also discusses in research articles how victims of trauma tend to be drawn to and experience additional trauma.
This gives treatment more options to explore. I in no way intend to justify drug abuse, but understanding addiction and where it comes from is a necessary step in treatment and eradication. All of us have ways to comfort ourselves; some healthy, and others not so healthy.
Some of us have a drink, a cigarette, a chocolate milkshake, go running or take a bicycle ride, and cook comfort food. Most of us who have been around children are familiar with a favorite blanket, special pillow, pacifier for sleep and comfort, rocking chairs, etc.
Looking at addiction as maladaptive, compulsive (read that automatic and not thoughtful) comfort-seeking behavior makes sense. Family members and friends can begin to understand and not get angry or be so intolerant. This can lead to conversations about healthy coping skills and past hurtful events. Treatment providers can reframe new healthy and adaptive behaviors and explore past trauma. And people who engage in compulsive comfort-seeking behaviors can perhaps stop and look at their lives and make healthier choices.
Many of our court systems have gotten a big part of the message. Treatment courts focus on relationships and behavior in a more conversational setting model and support healthier coping skills and communication. Therapists who utilize the latest treatment strategies to address past trauma help those struggling with addiction to stop the self-medicating and comfort-seeking behavior, or at least stop and think about their actions. Families, friends and even employers are more understanding of individual struggles.
Together, we can beat these awful diseases called addiction.
Stephani, coordinator of emergency services at Century Health, is a licensed independent social worker supervisor. She is on professional staff at Ohio State University at Lima. If you have a mental health question, please write to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609, Findlay 45839.