Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 18th 2013 Contents B44
body & soul
Thursday, July 18, 2013 www.guardian.co.tt Guardian
Glee star Cory
found dead at
a hotel in
checked into a
in late March.
Anytime I hear about a death that may be linked
to addiction, I am reminded that this is a misunder-
stood and deadly disease. Deaths caused by addiction
have risen astronomically in the past decade. Drug
overdose is now the No 1 cause of accidental death
in the United States; more common than death by
Glee actor Cory Monteith, who was found dead at
a Vancouver hotel on Saturday, had said that he struggled
with substance abuse since his teenage years. The cause
of his death is not yet known; medical examiners were
set to perform an autopsy Monday.
Whenever someone with addiction dies, I grieve the
lost potential and wonder about the limitations of our
ability to address this cunning, baffling and powerful
I am also humbled by my own experience with
addiction and recovery, and grateful for the help I
received. It seems nearly impossible to believe that
people with addiction would continue to use drugs
and alcohol to the point of death, but that is what
people with addiction do: They deny both the con-
sequences and the risks of using. As we continue to
learn about addiction, we're understanding more about
why addicted people behave the way they do. But
that's little solace for friends and family.
Addiction is a brain disease, and our knowledge of
it has expanded significantly, which has informed our
treatment programmes and altered our perceptions.
We know that addiction resides in the limbic system,
a subconscious part of our brain that is involved with
memory, emotion and reward.
We refer to this area of the brain as the reward centre,
as it ensures that all rewarding or reinforcing activities,
especially those associated with our survival, are pri-
oritised. The reward centre makes sure we survive by
eating, drinking fluids, having sex (for survival of the
species) and maintaining human interactions.
In late stages of addiction we can see how reward-
related drives, especially those for survival, are repri-
oritised when people risk their families, their jobs, even
their lives to continue to use drugs and alcohol. The
continued use of the drug becomes the most important
drive, at a subconscious level and unrecognised by the
individual, undermining even life itself.
When a methamphetamine-addicted mother makes
the nightly news after neglecting her children for four
days while on a meth run, we can't comprehend how
anyone could do such a thing and tend to think she
does not love her children. She may have been going
out for groceries with the intent to return home and
feed her children, but ran into a dealer and started
using. Addiction took over, and she was driven by sub-
conscious forces even though she loves her children
as much as I love mine. Her love and her natural
instincts to care for and nurture her children were
overridden by her own brain, the reward system repro-
grammed to seek and use drugs at all costs. Unbe-
knownst to her, drug use has become the most impor-
tant thing in her life.
When we witness the incomprehensible behaviours
associated with addiction we need to remember these
people have a disease, one that alters their brains and
their behaviours. We tend to believe we all have free
will, so it is difficult to understand how the addicts'
perception has been so altered as to drive them to
We also assume they can make their own decisions,
especially when it comes to help for their addiction.
In so doing, we are expecting the person with a diseased
brain to accept the unacceptable, that the continued
use of drugs is not providing relief from the problem---
it is the problem, and they need to stop that which
has become paramount.
They are unable to make such decisions because
their brains have been altered to prioritise use of the
drugs, even above survival itself.
• Dr Marvin Seppala is the chief medical officer of
Hazelden, a private not-for-profit alcohol and drug
addiction treatment organisation. He's the author of
Clinician's Guide to the Twelve Step Principles. (CNN)
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