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Posted March 01, 2018 by Jaimie A. McKinnon

Jaimie McKinnon

As many of you know, our community has been struggling to effectively manage the addiction epidemic, which is now widely considered to be a public health crisis. The American Society of Addiction Medicine defines addiction as a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations.

While much of the scientific and medical community adhere to this disease-model, many individuals continue to align with the moral model, a framework that describes addiction as a choice people make to seek out self-destructive pleasure due to a lack of willpower.

Regardless of your personal stance or belief system, the fact remains that those suffering from addiction often desperately need assistance from external sources. The afflicted are plagued with a crushing array of negative emotions. The spectrum of denial, fear, and guilt these individuals routinely experience is strongly related to the development of debilitating anxiety, depression and potentially even suicidal thoughts. In addition to the negative physical and psychological issues caused by the addiction, they must contend with overwhelming societal barriers resulting from misunderstanding and stigmatization.

Because these patients are human beings like you and me, they are deserving of our utmost compassion. An intervention as simple as active listening can impart tremendous therapeutic benefits. When we validate the concerns of others, we often develop a better understanding of our own emotions.

With that said, our compassion must not begin and end with the individual. So much work still needs to be done at the community level, and collectively we need to embrace treatment centers, sober housing, and harm-reduction projects. Fighting against the stigma associated with addiction and the “not in my backyard” mentality of those in opposition to the development of treatment centers is necessary to make an impact on this epidemic.

Due to the lethality of our current epidemic with opiates, the belief that a person must “hit rock bottom” before they can change is not a rationale option. We must meet addicts where they are at while encouraging treatment options and sobriety.  Relapse should be expected and plans for continuous re-engagement should be in the contingency plans.

Two concepts are essential to the successful treatment of patients with addictions and mental health disorders.

First, we must focus on the person and not the chemical when treating those with addictions. The chemical will change over time as we have seen with the various drug epidemics of the past, but by focusing treatment on the person we can navigate the changes related to substance use in the future.

Secondly, treatment should be focused on capabilities rather than pathology with an emphasis on patient’s strengths and worth, for example, “what is right, not what is wrong.” Also, we must focus on the trauma to the individual and question, “what happened to you, not what is wrong with you.” Interventions should target the core issue instead of the symptoms thus eliminating maladaptive behavior. 

The Summa Health Behavioral Health Institute offers a variety of inpatient and outpatient services to combat a variety of addiction as well as mental health disorders.  We recently have expanded to include Intensive Outpatient Services in Hudson for mental health and addiction services and are now offering medication assisted treatment for those with Alcohol or Opiate Dependence through our VivitrolTM Clinic at our St. Thomas Campus in Akron.

If you have any questions, or know of someone that needs help, please call us at 330.379.9841. 


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