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Deep Learning versus Disease?

I despise the argument of addiction being a disease or a choice. For the simple fact that I’m a nurse. If a child has a sliver in their finger, it really doesn’t matter how it happened; we just have to get it out. Even while the child is fighting us trying to get it out.

With addiction, I just don’t see the relevance to what it matters after the fact. If it’s a choice then are we really going to use that as a punishment?

Someone is writhing in pain from excruciating nausea and chills and shaking uncontrollably and we are going to tell them you made this choice? Really?

Or the unconscious patient, as we stand there holding the narcan saying, “I don’t know dude, I don’t know if this was accidental or your choice so I’ll just stand here and play God for a minute until I decide if you’re worth saving”.

Remember the tainted Tylenol episode from year’s ago? Someone put stuff in bottles of Tylenol then put them back on the shelf. Customers took them for pain or discomfort and a few died.

Well -I make the argument that Addicts are in pain and discomfort and they take something to make themselves feel better too. And some of what they take is deadly. Just because we don’t agree with what they took doesn’t make their life less valuable.

I’m all about finding better ways to get them to not want to take the “tainted” Tylenol.

So it was interesting to read this article from the National Drug and Alcohol Centre in Sydney; stating that addiction may be more the result of Deep Learning. Rather than a disease. …or basically Habits as I wrote earlier.

The article states that:

“Addiction still is ‘probably’ triggered by stress or alienation. It can duly be unlearned by forging stronger synaptic pathways via better habits”.

This gives me alot more hope for recovery for my son, than being chained to 12 step meetings the rest of their life and forever facing “triggers” that will surely cause relapse.

I feel that way because that seems to be my son’s attitude too, and a main reason why he doesn’t seek recovery. He just doesn’t believe in the current advertised recovery model. He sees the statistics and sees the relapses and he feels like the stigma perpetuates that it’s a lifelong battle and only makes addicts feel hopeless that they can’t achieve that.

Some of this attitude is definitely his hijacked brain talking, trying its damndest to extend the addiction as long as it can, to keep my son it’s slave in misery.

My son also doesn’t trust the medical prefessionals who he feels perpetuated his early addiction. ( Again, this IS his hijacked brain talking- BUT The proof has also come out that this is true. )

The article agrees:

“The implication for the $35 billion-dollar treatment industry in the US is that tackling addiction as a medical issue should be only a small element of a more holistic approach. The problem is, there’s a lot of vested interest – and financial investment – in perpetuating the disease model”.

Professor Allison Ritter expresses fatigue with the brain disease model.

“It has not produced any new technologies for treatment nor necessarily decreased stigma or improved the lot of people who experience dependence problems”.

Matthews Hope Foundation is one model that’s trying to change the landscape of recovery with remapping the brain to imbed different pathways which result in better habits. It’s called Iasis technology.

On their website they have Nicole Labors’ Neuroscience of Addiction video. She is one of my favorite advocates for explaining addiction and this video hits it all.

Regardless, the cause isn’t nearly as important as the solution. As this Mother who has lost a child stated: What does it matter? The pain of loss is heartbreaking.

As I sit here in the early morning hours finishing this article, awaiting my nurse shift to begin; I’m overwhelmed with a sadness that I even have to defend my son’s recovery. So much energy spent on some sort of moral aspect of addiction, when people are suffering and dying. It’s heartbreaking. My entire family has a big hole in it from this journey, just as we would if my son had a debilitating, progressively deadly disease such as Lou Gehrig’s. Some diseases do affect the mind eventually yet that doesn’t lessen our compassion for them.

Addiction is a complex insidious, torturing disease of the brain and all I’m asking for is some compassion that will move people toward more action- less judgement.

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