Posted by: dopaminedialogue | 04/01/2014

Let’s treat addiction like the health crisis it is

So, I’m here in sunny (but a little chilly) San Diego for the Innovations In Recovery conference. I’m writing this post at 4am because I am wired. I’ve felt this buzz of energy well up inside of me ever since I stepped off of the plane. These people are speaking my language and it feels so validating to hear it and to know that there is indeed a large number of people out there who GET addiction and want to be on the cutting edge of how to help those who suffer with it. It is easy to forget this because the average health professional that most of us interact with on a regular basis has not done their homework on this topic.

There have been some sobering statistics shared here:

-The #1 reason for a visit to the doctor is chronic pain. 60% report addiction started due to chronic pain. However, each board certified pain specialist got only a total of 2 hours of addiction education/training throughout their entire medical school experience.

-24 million people in the US need substance abuse treatment. Only 4 million get it.

-Every 19 minutes, we lose 1 child to addiction.

We’ve got to do better. And we can. There are just a few very large obstacles to overcome…

The biggest obstacle (and the one this blog is dedicated to overcoming) is STIGMA. Stigma keeps the addicted from seeking help; it keeps physicians from seeking education (most physicians don’t want to deal with addicted patients, so why educate themselves?); it keeps families from sharing their struggles and reaching out. Is there any wonder that the costs of addiction in our nation alone totals over $600 billion per year?

David Sheff, author of a book called Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction, spoke yesterday about the myth that a person with the disease of addiction has to hit rock bottom before they will be ready to accept help. He shared a quote that brought gasps from the audience. “Waiting for someone to hit bottom is like waiting for a diabetic to lose a leg before we treat it.” The shame that we as a society inflict upon those with this disease is unlike that of any other illness.

But, this conference is not without hope for change. There is a great deal of talk about the changes in healthcare and the potentially positive impact this can have on this epidemic. There is hope that the Mental Health Parity Act will lead to more treatment and, therefore, more attention to the problem. With more research showing that therapies like EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), Motivational Interviewing, and Mindfulness actually work, more treatment centers are incorporating these practices into their programs and more insurance companies are beginning to require these evidence-based practices in order to insure reimbursement.

These are steps in the right direction, for sure…but we do indeed have a very long way to go.


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