Top Ten list that helps to raise awareness about addiction to drugs and alcohol:

1)    The addict or alcoholic isn’t always who you think it is!  Drugs and alcohol are so prevalent in our society that the drug addict and the alcoholic aren’t always the obvious derelict on the street corner or the swaying patron at the bar.  No — addicts and alcoholics include almost every age group, occupation, ethnicity, etc.  The addict/alcoholic can be the nurse who took down your information at the Emergency Room, your teacher or professor, your fellow student, your friend’s mom or dad, the cop who gave you the speeding ticket, the pastor who counsels you before you get married, the kid riding his bike down the sidewalk, your grandma, the taxi driver, the air traffic controller, and the pilot!

2)    The addict/alcoholic may have become that way through no fault of his own.  Doctors today are still not aware of the dangers of prescribing narcotic drugs for pain control.  Many doctors continue to prescribe higher dosages and heavier or more dangerous drugs to the same patient over a period of years.  Those same doctors don’t even recognize that their patients are addicted, and that they have led that person down a path ultimately toward death.  Likewise, alcohol is not recognized as a “drug” by most people.   (Neither are cigarettes!)  Parents have been known to encourage young kids to have a little wine or a beer at a family party and to host teenage parties and supply the alcohol.  It’s almost expected to drink to excess as soon as you turn 21.

3)    The addict/alcoholic doesn’t always partake to get “high” but rather to avoid the pain of withdrawal.  Addiction is a real, physical (and mental) response to a chemical substance.  The body begins to demand the drug of choice.   If the habit continues, what might have begun as pain control immediately following surgery turns into a monster to be fed.  The monster learns to even “create” additional pain if it is not fed, and the addict believes he has no choice but to feed the monster.  However, the monster only grows larger and more demanding, creating more and more pain or incentive for the addict to feed the monster, with the addict sometimes not even knowing how much is being demanded until eventually the addict overdoses and dies.

4)    You don’t have to be rich to support a drug or alcohol habit.  True addicts become extremely creative to feed their habit.  Women sometimes turn to prostitution.  Men sometimes turn to burglary or white collar crime.  Kids steal from their parents or neighbors.  Others beg on street corners.  Some decide to make their own with a meth lab or growing marijuana.

5)    Drug and alcohol addiction claims more victims than just the addict alone.  Addiction has a ripple effect on the family and the community.  Marriages are destroyed, children grow up with a single parent, quality of work and work productivity suffers, etc.  There are the hidden costs of higher taxes due to the support of addicts without health insurance who use emergency rooms as their primary source of care, high costs for goods and services due to poor work productivity and absenteeism, etc.

6)   As a nation, we spend very little money on eliminating addiction.  We spend quite a lot of money on our criminal justice system and punishing or rehabilitating the addict as well as various programs, but very little goes into the research to solve the addicting properties of narcotics.  While going to school fulltime, I am also working as an intern in a research lab.   I chose this lab because it aligns perfectly with my desire to eliminate the addicting effects of opiate drugs.  Our lab is performing some very unique, ground-breaking work in this field.  Basically, we make antagonists that bind to both the Mu and Delta receptors in our brain.  Mu is responsible for the binding of morphine.  By inhibiting these receptors, we hope to learn more about the metabolic pathways and encephalins produced from these receptors, because not a lot of information is known at this time.  If we can understand how these receptors bind and inhibit the antagonists we make, then we can eliminate the addictive properties of morphine and other opioids associated with the Mu and Delta receptors.  I believe we are the first lab in history to try to create a Mu and Delta linker, so it’s revolutionary work.  But work such as this needs to be recognized and receive proper funding.

7)    Addiction is a disease and not a matter of self-control.  As explained above, the addict is at the mercy of the drug unless he receives the intervention and help needed.  Sometimes we fail to recognize addiction as a disease and we think that the addict just needs to stop taking the drug or alcohol.  We feel that they are weak, when they are victims as much or more than the diabetic who needs insulin.

8)    We are paying the price for marketing drugs and alcohol as something glamorous.  Through movies, videos, magazine ads, celebrity worship, etc., our society has glamorized drug and alcohol use.  It’s no wonder that we have a society of addicts – both hidden and obvious.  Instead, we need an emphasis on the horrors of addiction, and this message should not only come from our schools but also from the news media, Hollywood, etc.

9)    Educate yourself about resources available.   If you know someone who is addicted, there are many resources in almost every community to help the addicted person.  There are the free resources like Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, libraries, and free health clinics or clinics that operate on a sliding scale.  There are also rehab centers, hospitals, etc.   In addition, physicians and counselors can direct an addict to resources that would be the best fit for that addict.

10) Don’t get addicted yourself!  The very best way not to become addicted is to abstain.  If your family has a history of drug or alcohol abuse, know that you are even more at risk than others.  Don’t be influenced by peer pressure.  Drugs and alcohol are not necessary component of life.  You can live a beautiful and happy drug and alcohol free life.  However, if you do decide to partake, be aware of the warning signals and if you feel you are even starting to become addicted, then stop or seek help immediately.