This post was originally published on June 8, 2015.
There are few sentences I’ve agreed with more than the one written by Dr. Anthony Komaroff, a Harvard Medical School professor, in a timesnews story: “People prone to addiction may be wired differently.” He writes that half a person’s tendencies to becoming addicted can be attributed to genetic makeup with environmental influences, personal history and mental health all add to the mix. Well, I for one can check all of those risk factors off on my list of reasons why I’m an addict—along with a few more, like the fact I loved being drunk and high. I never understood people who said things like, “Oh, I’ve had enough to drink, I’m starting to feel its effects” or “I better stop snorting this cocaine in case I start hallucinating.” What do those sentences even mean, for Christ sake? Even now, being clean and sober for over four years, my brain is still unable to assimilate those statements as being logical. Why drink or use drugs at all if you are not going to achieve the highest level of inebriation possible?
Dr. Komaroff reports that it’s possible that people who are addicts have a more robust dopamine response than non-addicts, which is to say that we release higher levels of dopamine when a stimulant is ingested. He also writes that the plague of addiction needs to be solved and that because the knowledge about brain chemistry when it comes to addiction has come so far, this will lead to better treatment.
I’m certainly not convinced that better treatment will be available, especially when local addiction centers across America are struggling to keep their doors open. In Washington state alone, thousands of people trying to get clean face losing access to outpatient programs. Apparently, the Affordable Care Act is threatening the survival of outpatient facilities because of a cut in funding to these services. Now many centers will be forced to close and thousands will be left without help. To me, it seems ludicrous that a disease that’s crippling an entire nation and killing hundreds of thousands of people every year needlessly isn’t a priority on the list for healthcare funding.
But then, for many, addiction still isn’t viewed as a disease. Some still consider alcoholics and addicts bad, immoral people and feel that healthcare is wasted on those who made a bad choice and should just suck it up. To them I say: I sure as hell wouldn’t have chosen the path of addiction willingly. And until we can face what addiction is, how the hell can we help people with it?