There is plenty of reason for parents to be concerned about the drug trends youth are exposed to today. Vaping is rampant among youth at early ages as nicotine and cannabis are consumed with electronic devices and are difficult to detect. Children are literally getting high in plain sight. Recent headlines feature the health risks associated with vaping nicotine (lung illnesses reported in Milwaukee) and the U.S. Surgeon General issued an urgent warning about youth cannabis use which today has THC levels much higher than the marijuana of previous generations. THC is the chemical element that has an euphoric effect impacting in the neurobiology of the young developing brain. (Read more: Cannabis 101 for parents:Two truths about today’s pot).
And we are still dealing with the disease and death of the opioid epidemic. Since the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared opioid addiction and deaths as a public health emergency in 2017, medication assisted treatment is now accepted to reduce risk of harm as a strategic component along with cognitive therapy to treat opioid addiction. (Read more: A response to the opioid epidemic: Remove the cone of silence)
Last week I attended a very informative and insightful training on the opioid epidemic hosted by Azure Acres. The presenter, Curtis Buzanski, LMFT, LAADC, who has a private practice in Sacramento, offered a very instructive and hopeful overview of the science of addiction and treatment as it relates to the opioid crisis. Buzanski observes that the opioid problem is bigger than any one current trend of substance abuse. He offers a hypothesis that on the heels of the opioid epidemic is a benzodiazepine addiction epidemic that promises greater health risks than opioids.
And beyond that, there will probably always be another way of getting high trending because the true nature of the drug abuse epidemics is about the human potential for addiction which can be treated effectively as a medical and a spiritual wellness issue. The good news is that the antidote to addiction is a healthy relationship with self and others, which is made possible when we choose to learn how the science of addiction and recovery informs prevention strategy. It is one big hug for the soul that never gives up hope. Recovery happens when the addicted loved one realizes that intoxication is not fulfilling and chooses instead to reconnect with their eternal powers of self-determination (memory, intellect and will) and are met with the same in family and community members to experience a secure sense of belonging to something greater.
Below are the facts and insights I gleaned from Buzanski’s presentation that can help parents be well-informed and confident to have conversations with their children and teens. Seek drug counseling right away if there is any evidence of drug use. It is an opportunity to learn something about the human condition and bond with your child. (For more information about drug counseling resources, contact Joanna)
The rise of opioid addiction
- We’re not in an opioid epidemic, we in are a phase of an ongoing addiction epidemic. The name of the drug is the only thing changing.
- Drug overdose death rates have been on an exponential growth since 1979 (Science Magazine, Jalal, et al. 2018)
- The U.S. is the biggest consumer of hydrocodone, hydromorphone and ocycontin (semi-synthetic versions of opioids).
- From 1999-2017 more than 700,000 people have died from drug overdose. Finally in 2017 the HHS declared it a public health emergency.
- Opioid abuse was nurtured by social factors, such as our culture that over-emphasizes individual achievement and undervalues group success; uninformed medical providers; high numbers of cancer, heart disease and autoimmune disorders involving pain; the hyper-vigilant, anxious generation of youth coming of age during the 2008 recession; and the devastation of the manual labor middle class; and ineffective treatment approaches.
Science of addiction
- The basics of brain neurobiology. Neurotransmitters (NT) are the chemical messengers that tell the brain and the body what to do. They are electrical and chemical. Endogenous are internal and produced naturally to sense pain or pleasure and releases endorphins. Exogenous are external that require external sources to create activation, such as opioids to release endorphins (short term feel good hits).
- The closer an external drug mimics the “key” of an internal NT, the greater the chemical release from the body and hence greater addictive potential. The longer the drug use the less effective receptors become, which can result in a greater need for opioids. If loaded with opioids, the brain’s ongoing attempt to maintain balance will increase the release of natural “anti-opiates” making sobriety and withdrawals worse and worse after every dose, motivating more use.
- Addictive potential: opioids mimic the human bonding reward of the internal NT, and fills a growing wound in our society of “feeling alone in a crowd.” Opioids numb the pain and release endorphin pleasure, and because the drug will continue to draw on our bodies endorphins to no end, the withdrawal can be very painful.
The root of addiction: Disconnect from family and community
Fueling addiction as an epidemic are the social conditions that make a person feel disconnected or isolated. This can be the result of attachment issues (early childhood experiences that inspire a lost sense of connection with loved ones), unresolved trauma and anxiety. And we are living in an era of high anxiety. The current young adult and adolescent generation are raised with great economic uncertainty and threats of personal security (think student debt; stagnant wages; humanitarian concerns, bullying and judgments hyped in social media).
According to Buzanski, the current social conditions are ripe for a benzodiazepine (benzos) epidemic because the generation that watched their older siblings and peers go through heroin addiction will believe that benzos are the lesser evil. They are cheap and easy to purchase.
- Think of the next drug trend as like another contraction in childbirth. You know it’s coming. So this is the good news that we can anticipate it and implement prevention, intervention and treatment measures.
- Treatment for drug addiction must be individualized and involve various modalities of healing (CBT/DBT/Yoga/Brainspotting/Equine Therapy/Meditation, etc.). One method does not work for every person in the same way. The aim of treatment is to help a person suffering from addiction to reconnect and reorganize the brain around a healthy relationship bond with a therapist and family. The reconnection happens when the individual in treatment chooses to reconnect. It is an inside job that is accomplished in the context of a caring relationship.
- The most effective element of a treatment is therapeutic alliance, “defined as the quality and strength of the collaborative relationship between client and therapist, typically measured as agreement on the therapeutic goals, consensus on treatment tasks, and a relationship bond.”
‘When two minds are influencing each other,
co-regulation occurs.” Dan Siegel
To learn more about individualized treatment approaches and Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT), contact Curtis Buzanksi.
For assistance parenting a child or adolescent in treatment and/or recovery, contact Joanna.
UPCOMING TRAININGS BY CURTIS BUZANSKI
- September 27, 2019 – Demystifying Addiction: The Science Behind the Stigma – Register here
- November 1, 2019 – The Trauma Response & the Imprint It Leaves: Exploring the Emotional Underpinnings to Addiction – Register here
About: We are a non-profit education center founded in Roseville, CA to strengthen the parent-child bond in a hyper-connected world. Our mission is to restore families with the mustard seed of faith that declares liberty already belongs to the soul because one God, the Creator of all humanity, grants every human being intelligence and free will to choose what to believe, and that is power that can never be taken, but is easily surrendered to the bully, the drug or the device.
Peace on earth begins with peace at home.
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Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and consultant on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber-powered world. She is a former technology executive trained in behavioral science at U.C. Berkeley, a mother of two grown sons, and an author of books for practical guidance on parenting, growing up and family life in the network culture. As a family and technology culture advisor, Joanna has appeared on 103.9FM The Fish, 710AM Keeping Faith in America, 1380AM The Answer, and Examiner.com.