Just quit.

That “advice” often was what people said to someone who had an addiction. Just quit, as if the addiction was something someone could turn off and on at will.

Thankfully, over the years, doctors and clinicians have come to see addiction as what it really is — a medical and mental health issue, and not simply the result of “poor choices.”

The change is in view, based on research that shows both genetic predispositions to addiction and real ways substance abuse changes the brain, “acknowledges that addiction is a chronic but treatable medical condition involving changes to circuits involved in reward, stress and self-control,” according to a 2018 article published by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of NIDA, said in that same article that “informed Americans no longer view addiction as a moral failing,” and that rather than a simple matter of individual choices, addiction is a disease stemming from “complex interactions between biology, behavior and environment.”

Addiction is a big medical and mental health issue. An estimated 19.7 million Americans are battling a substance abuse disorder, according to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. It’s estimated 1 out of every 10 American adults struggle with alcohol or drug abuse, according to National Institutes of Health.

It is safe to say most Americans probably are related to or know someone who has battled, or is battling, addiction.

So, along with the changes in treatment, changes in attitudes are needed to help people. We can’t just tell loved ones to “just quit.” That didn’t work in the past, and it’s not going to work now.

Jason Zwink LPC, director of Lighthouse Substance Abuse Services in Woodward, a service of Northwest Center for Behavioral Health, said public perceptions of addiction, and understanding of its nature as a brain disease, have improved considerably over the last two decades.

“If we’re talking about a biological change in the brain, I think we have to understand it’s not something you can just stop,” Zwink said.

Tanya Kennedy, program director at Catalyst Behavioral Services Enid, said accepting some form of spirituality bigger than oneself often is what makes the difference between success or failure in overcoming addiction.

She said overcoming the changes in brain chemistry caused by addiction often requires finding something that takes away the inward focus on those rewired reward centers in the brain.

As communities consider how to handle addiction, Zwink advised thinking of it as a health crisis, and not simply a moral failing.

“I would hope for empathy, and a level of understanding that what we’re seeing with this disease is a lot like other medical diseases,” Zwink said. “If you had a loved one with diabetes, you’d want them to get treatment and help.”

If you know someone struggling, show your concern and help direct them to the treatment and care they need. Don’t blow it off and say just quit.

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