Another young life taken by the disease of addiction.
This time it was Corey Monteith, a successful
“Glee” Star. He was only 31years old. He had been to
rehab after his family had successfully completed an
intervention at 19. By all counts, he had everything to
live for and the resources to overcome his addiction.
Reports say he had overdosed on a combination of
alcohol and heroin. What happened?
Addiction is an equal opportunity destroyer. It doesn’t
matter how young or old, how rich and successful or
poor, what color your skin is or how educated you are.
This is the baffling feature of addiction. When I started
in the treatment field as a nurse, we tried an “experiment”
of putting treatment for alcoholism into hospitals.
I was in the first CARE unit. We weren’t sure you
could do that.
To our surprise, it started to save lives and was tremendously
successful. We were training doctors and health
professionals who had barely received a couple of
hours of education in medical school on the subject. In
fact, we required doctors and anyone working with our
patients to be educated by our programs before they
could work on our units.
You would think that nearly 30 years later, the problem
would be understood and successfully treated. But this
is not the case. In fact, the education has gone backwards,
and the hospital programs that initiated these
education programs are gone with the problems of
money and managed care. We are worse off now and
the problem is growing to epidemic problems. We are
in another tsunami of addiction and we are losing lives
at a rapid pace.
The media has focused on the Hollywood and celebrity
stars since they are our cultural heroes. The list is
endless of deaths by addiction including Anna Nicole
Smith, Heath Ledger, Michael Jackson to name a few.
What is this addiction?
Addiction is a mental obsession coupled with a physical
allergy. Because the individual who has it violates
their values, it is also called a spiritual disease. Years
ago it was so baffling to try to teach about it. We used
to call it the “X” factor that determined who had this
disease and who didn’t for lack of a better word.
We have had 30 years of research since then to determine
all the elements that are in the “X” Factor
and we are still finding out what determines it. Dr.
Mark Schucket did international research years ago
that proved it was a genetic pre-disposition. His most
recent research determined that even the bodies of
male adult children of alcoholics when they ingest
alcohol for the first time actually do something entirely
different than the male adult children of non-alcoholic
parents. He proved things like it was likely to occur 4
times higher in males than in females.
An Indiana biochemist in 1988 made the cover of
Newsweek magazine when he found that there were
liver enzymes in certain racial populations that were
missing in the Irish, American Indian and Eskimo
populations. When alcohol was ingested by groups,
mainly in the Jewish or Japanese populations, the liver
enzyme was found present in their bodies. It broke
down the metabolites of the alcohol creating a flush
effect. In other words, people who were non-alcoholic
actually had a physiological reaction to the ingestion
of the alcohol. It caused them to not want to drink
more because they got sleepy or felt sick or their faces
flushed. When the group of people who did not have
the liver enzyme in their bodies drank the alcohol, they
had nothing innately to stop them. It went into the
bloodstream without any side effects.
There was Dr. Virginia Davis, a,brain cancer researcher
who discovered quiet by accident that all her cadavres,
had the thinking substance not found in normal human
brains called THIQ. She detected the donation
source of her cadavres to be f late stage alcoholic
addicts who had been on skid row.
There has been new brain research that discovered
the dopamine receptor sites (pleasure receptors) had
been impaired or deficient in the brains of addict/
alcoholics. We have even discovered that the DNA,
which we thought only was formed at birth, had been
altered at the moment of trauma. This was the result
of a brain bank study in Quebec over a 10 year period.
They found that this trauma and resulting DNA change
lead to an abnormal cortisol level in the brain (stress
hormone). This in turn lead to the completed suicide of
older children who had been traumatized at a younger
age. This was useful in understanding how brains differ
and which brains are at a higher risk for stress, suicide
and alcohol and drug abuse (addiction).
Dr. Kevin Mc Caulley talks about his film “Pleasure Unwoven”
and the problems that occur in the brain when
addiction is present. A failure in the decision making
part of the brain called the cortex, he says, accounts for
inability of the addict to remember what he learned or
to stop. I suspect the researchers are only beginning to
understand some of the elements of the “X” factor.
And so we understand a little about some of the reasons
and the causes of addiction. Another aspect of addiction,
which few people understand, is the aspect of
cross addiction. The body doesn’t care if the substance
is legal or illegal. The body’s “X” factor is activated
anytime a dependency producing substance is introduced
into the system. This means that education or
years of recovery of an individual are no match for the
process that occurs when the substance is introduced.
This means pills, alcohol or drugs. The body changes
once the introduction occurs. It’s a primary, chronic,
progressive and potentially fatal disease. However, the
treatment has been known for years. Like any chronic,
progressive and potentially fatal medical illness, there
are steps that can be taken to ensure a long lasting and
healthy life despite the fact that this disease is present.
We call this remission of the disease.
Like diabetes, when the pancreas cannot produce the
insulin, no amount of education, religion or psychiatry
can make the pancreas produce the insulin. Education,
Religion and Psychiatry can assist someone in denial
about their diabetes but cannot produce the cure. The
same holds true for addiction.
Another issue is that most overdoses are actually unintentional.
Due to the combination of chemicals, the
overdose can happen at any time. So, let us to simplify
the example. 3 glasses of wine and 3 pills equal a
blood value of 6.
3 plus 3 equals 6. Let us say that a person has done this
chemical combination for a year with the same results.
Then one day the body decides to multiply the chemicals
instead of add. Exponentially multiply the 3 glasses
of wine and the 3 pills. So because of this uncertainty,
let us say 3 times 3 equal of hypothetic blood value of
9. Let us say 8 is the overdose value. In other words,
the combination of chemicals do not always produce
the same effect. One day it may multiply the effects
instead of add it. That means that the same doses of
chemicals someone has been taking for years, suddenly
multiplies the effect and the person is dead by the
As a person trained by the Father of Intervention “Dr.
Vernon Johnson”, we think that like the program on
TV, “Intervention”, a person sees the light as a result of
this process and goes into rehab. It’s a success. Too
simplistic. It is like a person has been diagnosed with
the diabetes and finally gets into the hospital and is
educated. But whether the person continues with a
program of recovery for LIFE, as with any long- term,
progressive, chronic and potentially fatal disease, is the
difference between whether he can continue to recover
a normal lifestyle.
With time, whether a person uses or not, the baffling
feature of this disease is that if he relapses, he not only
does what he was doing where he left off, but will pick
up as if he had been using the entire time. Science
does not understand this but we know that this is part
of the physical portion of this disease. We know that it
continues it’s progression. This is proven by the tragic
result of people who may have had many years of
recovery and made the fatal mistake of just trying “one
more time”. Most people died discovering this fact.
They don’t get a second chance. Sometimes, a few
people do live and return to tell how the relapse was
much worse this time than their last.
History repeats itself. The problem is there needs to
be someone to discuss the process and the history.
People like myself, who started with the chemical dependency
treatment field when it was new, are aging
out of the system. They are retiring or are dying. The
message must get out there.
Like any disease that must be monitored continuously,
vigilance in treatment and recovery is a must. It’s not
enough just for the individual to work on this alone.
This is a family disease. The family must be treated as
well. They grow sick and are affected as well. They
“enable” the addict/alcoholic to get sicker unintentionally.
With most illnesses, kindnesses and sacrifices
are rewarded and appreciated. They are time limited.
When the illness is over, families and friends are happy
to help and their loved one is better. However, with
this disease, such “kindnesses” assist the progression
of the disease and continues to enable the addicted
individual. What is worse,is that the individual doesn’t
share the gratitude. Family and friends are met with
the lies and anger, arrogance and denial that go with
this disease. This leads to understandable resentments,
hurt, anger and confusion. This is the co-dependency
that must be treated too. The entire family system is
infected and it goes on generationally. The emotional
immaturity that is the hallmark of people with this
disease render them incapable of being emotionally
and in some cases physically present for their children.
We have generations of people who have been victims
of this disease. This is the real tsunami when we look at
the effects of the disease.
However, there is treatment available. Not in our instant
quick-fix society, that promises a fast and easy cure
(although some professionals will have you believe that
and sell it to you for lots of money). The good news is
that we have the evidence of time and experience and
history. There have been people who have recovered
continuously from these addictions for over 70 years
for the first time in the history of man. It is available to
everyone. Not just to those who can afford it, and not
to those who can be educated about it, either. There
are many fine treatment programs and 12 step groups
available. Addiction therapists and addictionologists
are now in this field despite the new professions.
There are professionals who specialize in working
with the families. There are interventionists who
understand the principles Dr. Vernon Johnson set
about teaching. My group is one example of these
professionals. We recovery life coaches who not only
understand are trained but are recovering from addictions.
We have recovery life coaches who have had to
go through watching their loved ones get this disease.
And we offer hope. History does not have to repeat
itself if we can learn from it!!!!
By Michele Downey, LMFT,RN