Ask an Addict is a column penned by Helena Paivinen, a Kamloops scholar with expertise in addiction issues and someone who is also an addict. The column is meant to inform and help, which is particularly important as we remain mired in an opioid crisis that continues to claim thousands of lives each year. If you have a question you would like answered, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymity is guaranteed.
I felt my heart drop when I heard Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry state that addiction was pain, implying this is the reason we addicts then use.
In my previous life, I was educated to incorporate only evidence-based material in my lectures. Had I started telling undergraduate, university-level nursing students that mental illness was caused by bad mothering or that addiction resulted from emotional trauma/pain, I am certain I would have been shown the door. Had I taught these ideas, my dean (and maybe even some students) would have asked for evidence, the scientific basis to back up these claims.
Henry’s comments caused me dismay because such beliefs are why addicts are blamed — that is, people might then say we addicts can now use pain as an excuse to further justify and continue drug use.
Many people have experienced trauma/pain, but this is not why addiction exists. If it were, all those who have PTSD would also be addicted — and many are not.
I have emotional and physical pain, but really, who amongst us can say we do not?
The reality is that often, due to my past, heavy, blackout drinking or drug use, any “trauma” or pain that did happen occurred only because of just that. I engaged in dangerous activities, did stupid things, put myself in bad situations, which then led to pain — but it was the substance. Without alcohol or drugs in my system, I would have not been where I was nor did what I did.
That is the reality of where trauma often occurs.
Granted, some addicts have sexual/ physical abuse or hardships before ever taking a drink or a drug, but again, this is not a reason for addiction. If it were, everyone in the world who was traumatized or sexually/physically abused would now be addicted, but many are not.
For some reason, people still cannot accept the medical and scientific evidence, the MRI and biologic studies that provide objective evidence of the addictive process, the physical, neurological changes that occur within us. When diabetes happens, physical organs/functions are altered. This is the disease process that provides evidence — hardcore scientific facts that then help us to identify what happens after addiction occurs. Systemic physical changes occur and provide the basis of diagnosis, the biologic evidence of the presence of disease.
It is objective, unquestionable and irrefutable evidence, based only in science and not in subjective, personal and unfounded opinion.
This is my soapbox lecture for the day. If our medical leaders, do not understand this, then heaven help me and all those suffering from this disease of addiction. We must try to change this misguided (often in an attempt to care) perspective, as it is just that — a perspective not based in truth.
It hurts more than it helps.
Thank you for taking time to read this column. Only through you, the readers, can we help make this change.