GUEST POV | Heroin addiction not a "conscious and stupid decisio - WDRB 41 Louisville News

GUEST POV | Heroin addiction not a "conscious and stupid decision"

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By Dr. Colleen Ryan
Psychiatrist - Addiction Therapy

I am a psychiatrist specializing in addiction treatment. Mr. Lamb’s editorial of August 6 regarding heroin users states, "They’ve made a conscious -- and stupid -- decision to put their own lives in peril."   

The decision to use heroin is not a conscious decision as we normally think of it. Heroin is an opiate, the same class of medication as pain pills such as hydrocodone. Most people who use heroin are already addicted to pain pills. They can’t get pain pills because pills are harder to obtain now from doctors and dealers. They switch to heroin because it’s cheaper, more available, and they can’t function on a day-to-day basis without an opiate.

Why would someone choose to use a drug the first time knowing what we know now? First time use is fueled by many factors including genetics and environment. This is far more complicated than simply a matter of personal choice or conscious decision. People with a strong genetic loading for addiction become addicted more quickly and have more difficulty getting off drugs than those who don’t.

Addiction is a disease of disordered brain function. The frontal lobe of the brain is particularly affected. The frontal lobe is responsible for our ability to make well-reasoned decisions, so problems in that area can account for difficulty with judgment. Addiction professionals consider addiction a disease just like heart disease or cancer.

There are many medical disorders in which the behavior of patients contributes to the cost of treatment. Yet, patients with addiction are judged far more negatively than anyone else. It is a debilitating disorder that deserves treatment just as any other medical illness.

I’m Dr. Colleen Ryan and that’s my Point of View.

Copyright 2015 by WDRB News. All rights reserved.

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