Education, Relationships, and Opportunity Help Prevent Addiction

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( — September 27, 2016) — The recent heroin epidemic in the United States underscores a lot of problems that everyday people experience. Unlike many other cases of commonplace addiction, heroin has a particularly powerful way of eclipsing personality and ruining lives. Painkillers like heroin and oxycontin aren’t the only drugs that are habitually abused in the U.S.; they are just getting a lot of attention right now. America also has a problem with benzodiazepines, alcohol, and stimulants of all kinds, though these aren’t grabbing the headlines like the painkillers. Still, the culture of addiction begs the question: why are people getting hooked on drugs?

There is no easy answer to this question. Addiction is a complex thing, based on complex personal and environmental factors. Still, if one is to judge from a host of anecdotal reports, drug dependency has a lot to do with education, personal relationships, and opportunity.

Education. Drug social crises tend to emerge in settings where there is little to no formal education about drugs. Harm reduction may be taught to current IV drug users, through the help of social workers and health care providers, but most people don’t know anything about drug use, management, and dependency, until they find themselves with a problem. Abstinence only education doesn’t work for drugs any more than it works for sex. People who understand, somewhat, the effects of drugs will be able to make more informed decisions about using these chemicals. While they might not abstain entirely, they will be less likely to get hooked because of ignorance.

Relationships. Society has winners and losers. From a purely social standpoint, many people just don’t fit in, or feel that way because of un-diagnosed mental illness. When a person feels like an outsider, or feels that the world is a dark and menacing place, it is only natural to self-medicate. Because hard street drugs like heroin may be the only thing that works and is commonly available, this is often what gets turned to. Strong social and family relationships can help buoy a person in life, and help them recover from dependency.

Opportunity. The role of despair should not be forgotten the drug addiction conversation. Many people who don’t have much opportunity (socially, educationally, financially, etc.) will kill the pain with drugs. Other people start from a place of injury, getting hooked on painkillers in the process. That situation isn’t a logical linear progression. The boredom and depression that can result from injury is often forgotten in this discussion. When people feel down and out, they are much more likely to have trouble managing substance use, especially if they are interacting with a powerful drug they’ve never encountered before, which is also recommended by a doctor.

Drug education, family and social support, and general opportunity (financially and otherwise) are all things that can help prevent drug addiction, and correct it once it has begun. There is no easy fix, and these are not the only factors that result in drug addiction, but no conversation about dependence is complete without these factors.