Chances are you know someone dealing with an addiction. We have all been touched by drug and alcohol addictions either personally or professionally, whether it’s a friend, loved one or even yourself. Addiction is an equal-opportunity affliction, affecting people without regard to economic circumstance, education, race, geography, IQ or any other factor. Probably a confluence of factors—a potent but unknowable combination of nature and nurture—can lead to addiction, however, addiction and alcoholism are only symptoms of a deeper underlying cause.
Many people struggling with overcoming addiction find the holidays to be a particularly challenging time. Ideally a time filled with love and laughter, the holiday season often results in overindulgence and can be especially stressful for people in recovery and families of addicts still using.
Unpredictable special occasions can compound problems associated with substance abuse and addiction, causing extreme stress or feelings of loss or depression and often triggering memories of past events that led to feelings of shame and blame. Many recovering people associate the holidays with memories of big benders that resulted in relationship problems or great personal loss. Memories of unhealthy obese or diabetic loved ones overeating once again may also cause feelings of sadness. While family gatherings may exacerbate difficult or unhealthy relationships and increase anxiety levels, drugs, alcohol and food are often used to escape these feelings.
The time has come to recognize that addictions are no longer to be pushed into the dark corners, stigmatizing those who suffer from the disease. While we joke about being addicted to chocolate or shopping, it’s important to realize that addiction is an intensely private, personal and confronting affliction that is as difficult to explain as it is to treat. This complex issue involves much more than simply drawing on willpower to overcome.
“I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently, obesity,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, adding, “There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person who was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led them to that process.”
Changes in neurotransmitters, either deficiencies or elevations, have a profound effect on mental, emotional or behavioral function. Chronic exposure to drugs and food, especially sugar, disrupts the way critical brain structures interact to control behavior. It is a surprising fact that sugar is eight times more addicting than cocaine. More people die in this country because of chronic diseases caused by food and sugar addictions than by drug abuse.
The number one cause of drug addictions today is pharmaceutical prescribed drugs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has officially declared prescription drug abuse an epidemic.
Here are some statistics:
- Pharmaceutical drug overdose is one of the leading causes of death in the U.S.
- From 2000 to 2014, nearly half a million people died from drug overdoses.
- Since 1999, the number of overdose deaths involving opioids (including prescription opioid pain relievers and heroin) nearly quadrupled.
- Heroin deaths more than tripled between 2010 and 2014.
- Among new heroin users, approximately three out of four report abusing prescription opioids (drugs with the characteristics of opiate narcotics, but not made from opium) prior to using heroin.
We know that 85% of incarcerations, 50% of psychiatric admissions and 50% of emergency room visits directly result from drug abuse. Women are particularly vulnerable. Gallup pollsters have consistently found that the more wealthy and educated a woman is, the more likely she is to drink!
Women’s typically smaller size and additional body fat provide fewer liver enzymes to detoxify alcohol and drugs than men’s bodies. Yet according to the Wine Institute, women buy—and consume—the lion’s share of the 779 million gallons of wine sold in the U.S. each year. Between 2002 and 2012, the number of U.S. females who died from cirrhosis rose 13% (male deaths rose 7%).
Hope for Recovery
Despite the grim statistics, never ever give up hope for recovery—it can and does happen every day. Addictions are not a simple fix. Getting your neurotransmitters tested and using specific amino acids and targeted nutrient therapies to balance neurotransmitters can help ensure optimal blood chemistry to support recovery.
No matter what the addiction may be, getting essential support may help with recovery. You deserve your best life and holidays. Have a happy, healthy holiday!
Dr. Sharon Norling practices Advanced Functional Medicine in Westlake Village. Call 818.707.9355 or visit DrSharonNorling.com.