Lessons for the World: Treat Addiction as a Disease of the Brain says Surgeon General of the USA

A landmark report addressing substance misuse as a health crisis for the first time, was by published by the Surgeon General of America, Dr Vivek Murthy, on November 17th. This nation is, in many ways is the heartland of treatment and recovery philosophy: the birth place of the Anonymous fellowships and the base of many of the world’s leading drug and alcohol rehabilitation centres, so is the government is finally catching up? Maybe there are lessons in this report which apply to the world over?
The document entitled Facing Addiction in America, spanning more than 400 pages, looks at the way that alcoholism, drugs and health care are affecting the nation and makes a series of recommendations including expanding proven treatment programs, investing in harm reduction and treatment research. Additionally there are some very specific endorsements including adding addiction screenings into primary healthcare settings, creating recovery based high schools and colleges and establishing community forums to promote addiction as a medical problem.
Murthy said in a statement: “I’m calling for a cultural change in how we think about addiction. For far too long people have thought about addiction as a character flaw or a moral failing. Addiction is a chronic disease of the brain and its one we should treat the way we would treat any other chronic illness: with skill, compassion and urgency.’
The summary of the report says: “Historically, our society has treated addiction and misuse of alcohol and drugs as symptoms of moral weakness or as a wilful rejection of societal norms, and these problems have been addressed primarily through the criminal justice system. Our health care system has not given the same level of attention to substance use disorders as it has to other health concerns that affect similar numbers of people. Substance use disorder treatment in the United States remains largely segregated from the rest of health care and serves only a fraction of those in need of treatment. Only about 10 percent of people with a substance use disorder receive any type of specialty treatment. Further, over 40 percent of people with a substance use disorder also have a mental health condition, yet fewer than half (48.0 percent) receive treatment for either disorder.
Many factors contribute to this “treatment gap,” including the inability to access or afford care, fear of shame and discrimination, and lack of screening for substance misuse and substance use disorders in general health care settings. Further, about 40 percent of individuals who know they have an alcohol or drug problem are not ready to stop using, and many others simply feel they do not have a problem or a need for treatment1—which may partly be a consequence of the neurobiological changes that profoundly affect the judgment, motivation, and priorities of a person with a substance use disorder.”
This report was welcomed by health care experts and recovery advocates who agree that the criminal justice system is not the place to deal with these problems. University of California, Irvine, criminologist Mona Lynch, said: “We need to have the investment in public health and treatment programs. The criminal-justice system is, of course, a really expensive way to deliver health care. The punitive side of it can be counterproductive, particularly for addicts.” Substantial success has been seen in countries like Portugal who have approached the drug problem as a health issue and perhaps the time is ripe for more nations to take on this philosophy.

Snooker Ace, Mark King, speaks openly to the BBC about his Gambling Addiction.

Mark King, who won the Northern Ireland Open last week, spoke openly with the BBC about his gambling demons and how he attends Gamblers Anonymous every Wednesday night to keep them at bay.
The 42 year old snooker pro started going to GA in 1998 but it took 5 years before he started to take the program seriously. During the height of his gambling prowess he bet on everything he could including dogs, horses and card games. Estimating the financial cost of his addiction is difficult, he says and calculates that his total loss was somewhere around the £200,000 mark.
The Essex-born star explained: “It gets to the stage where you can either stay compulsive gambling, losing all your money, lying to your wife, not treating her very nicely, going out when you are not supposed to and arguing over nothing because you want to go and gamble. Or you think, ‘do I really want this life? I have a decent life playing snooker, do I want to waste my life and be a no one?”
In order to enter the tournament that he recently triumphed in he had to borrow his entry fee from his 83 year old father so the £70,000 prize money will be more than handy. Despite his financial difficulties King is determined to get back on top and look to the future.
He explained: “It’s hard when you are doing well and see players who earn the same money as you who have paid off their mortgages. But that’s the good thing about GA is that you can’t look back. I can’t get back money or time but I have not missed out on any of my kid’s stuff and they have never seen me gamble…….The last 13 years of my life has been good. Financially it hasn’t but the love that me and my wife and children have got together as a family is amazing and I could easily throw all that away.

Is Marijuana Bad for your Heart?

A recent study by St Luke’s University Health Network in Pennsylvania, USA has released a report which outlines that marijuana users may be twice as likely to develop a condition which weakens the muscles in the heart.
Stress cardiomyopathy, also known as transient ventricular regional ballooning or TVRB is a condition where the weakened heart muscles can produce shortness of breath, chest pain and dizziness very much like the symptoms of a heart attack.
Data from the Nationwide Inpatient Sample database which culls data from hospitals in 44 states was examined in regards to admissions for TVRB and found that between 2003 and 2011, 210 patients admitted for the condition had reported that they had used the drug or had traces of it in their urine.
Although, at present the findings are inconclusive, Dr. Amitoj Singh, chief cardiology fellow at St. Luke’s University Health Network and a co-author of the study, encouraged those who use the drug should be aware that certain cardiovascular abnormalities and complications can occur from marijuana use.
Research has suggested that there is a link between this heart condition and high levels of stress hormone and although high levels of these hormones can be found in marijuana users the link, if any, between all of these factors remains unsubstantiated. Additional research is need to clarify the exact nature of this relationship, especially as marijuana users often have a history of other issues that could increase the stress hormone including depression, anxiety and the use of other substances including tobacco and alcohol.


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