One of the most read and loved monthly magazines is National Geographic. Most of us have fond memories growing up scanning the magazine for awe-inspiring images of animals and landscapes. With the first issue published in 1888, National Geographic now reaches more than 730 million globally in 172 countries and 43 languages every month. In the United States, there is a circulation of 3.5 million per month. Many readers subscribe for articles about pan troglodytes (common chimpanzee) or loxodonta africana (African bush elephant). But, Nat Geo focuses on human interests as well. In this month’s edition, the publication set its sights on addiction, and the conditions’ many complexities.
We often think of addiction as being an American problem. We know it affects people around the globe, but in the United States we are using the market share of drugs. Especially opioid use, as you must be acutely aware by now has reached epidemic proportions. Opioid use, prescription or illicit, is a serious concern that deserves overwhelming attention. Yet, it is worth pointing out that opioids, like alcohol or any other mind-altering drug, can cut life short. This doesn’t just happen in America, it is happening almost everywhere. Finding ways to mitigate the risks of premature death is no easy task, to be sure. Although, taking the focus off the substances, and placing it on the underlying condition is perhaps the most salient. The disease of addiction.
After all, addiction is addiction is addiction. What one struggles with pales in importance to what is to be done about it. History shows us that billions of dollars can be spent to make it more difficult to get “high.” Yet, people will still get high.
Addiction by The Numbers
In the U.S. we have tried “locking up” every addict, and most people still use again upon release. All we’ve accomplished is creating an overburdened prison system housing mostly nonviolent drug offenders. Exhausting billions in taxpayers’ money every year. To make a long story short, treating addiction as a crime hasn’t paid off—doing absolutely nothing good. Rather than delve into to Our track record of draconian policies on addiction in America, let's pivot our focus. As was pointed out earlier, Nat Geo published a lengthy spotlight on addiction and the scientific effort for clarity. But first, some figures:
- 1.1 Billion Smokers Worldwide
- Over 100 Opioid Overdose in America Every Day
- 3.3 Million Worldwide Die Each Year from Alcohol
- 21 million Americans Living With Drug or Alcohol Addiction
In 2015, 33,091 Americans died of an overdose, enough to make anyone wince, but again addiction is not just Our problem. Over 200,000 people worldwide die of overdose or drug-related Illness every year, The United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime reports. Such figures you might find hard to believe. You may find it even harder to believe that more people are living with the disease of addiction than cancer in America. Both are deadly, but only one of them carries social stigma. Veritably, we don’t need to point out which. If addiction in America is an epidemic, addiction worldwide is nothing short of a pandemic. And if solutions are to be found it requires the attention of some of the world's brightest scientists.
The Science of Addiction
In a sense, addiction is a pathological form of learning,” said Antonello Bonci to National Geographic, a neurologist at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
Which begs the question, can it be unlearned? Many experts would argue, no, it can’t. And for good reason. Few people, if any, have ever thought their way out of an illness. However, science continues to shed light on the complexities of addiction. In turn, new avenues have been opened to help treat the disease and give a greater number of people hope for breaking the self-defeating cycle.
The Nat Geo article has many facets and layers of minutiae. We obviously can’t cover all of it, except for the main takeaways. One area covered had to do with advancements in transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). The researchers working with TMS point out that medications can only go so far. They [medications] can help people quit using, but they do little to prevent relapse. The idea that putting down drugs and alcohol is easy, how to not pick them back up is the crux of addiction science. Dr. Luigi Gallimberti, a psychologist and toxicologist who has been treating addiction for 30 years has hope for TMS, according to the article. Which could essentially reboot the human computer (brain) by activating drug-damaged neural pathways. Gallimberti worked with Bonci, and preliminary research showed promise with cocaine addicts. Future research is planned.
It’s so promising,” Bonci says. “Patients tell me, ‘Cocaine used to be part of who I am. Now it’s a distant thing that no longer controls me.’ ”
Keeping Cravings At Bay
The article transverses several areas involving addiction, from sex to overeating. It talks about the merits of spiritual programs based on the 12 Step model, and beyond. But the overarching theme, or target for that matter, is “craving.” How to stop the brain from craving substances or behaviors that are self-defeating? If the brain's trait of remarkable plasticity can easily lead to addiction, could it be used to foster recovery?
As it stands now, the ways and means of recovery utilized today seem to be anyone's best shot at recovery. A combination of medical detox, residential addiction treatment, medications and continued spiritual maintenance has borne the most fruit. A modality that will surely be fine-tuned as science uncovers the mechanisms of addiction more fully. Particularly regarding craving and keeping dopamine in check. Interestingly, the article writes: “In Buddhist philosophy, craving is viewed as the root of all suffering.”
Perhaps one day soon every addict will have a magnetic wand waved over one’s head. Putting an end to the cravings that lead to relapse. Programs of recovery today, are in no way full proof. But they can lead to long term recovery for anyone who is willing to give the program their all. Those who are committed to being vigilantly honest with them self and others can succeed. It is not easy, testament to the rates of relapse in recovery. But, those who lay a solid foundation to build their recovery upon can, and do recover. At PACE Recovery Center, we specialize in the treatment of young adult males touched by addiction. Are you ready to break the cycle of addiction and learn how to mitigate cravings to avoid relapse? If so, please contact us today. Recovery is possible.