John led off by giving some rather startling statistics on heroin usage in the St. Louis and Metro East area. They are dealing with 200 instances in the greater metropolitan area but the problem is far from limited to St. Louis. John said last year at this time they had dealt with 6 overdoses of heroin by young people in the Edwardsville area and this year that number stands at 24. He said heroin is a middle and upper class problem now and it is in the middle schools and high schools today.
John said drug addiction is the neurological condition in which there is a persistent change in both the structure and function of the brain. With todayÕs technology we can absolutely prove that.ÊÊ This is quite different from decades ago when it was assumed an addiction was simply a matter of oneÕs willpower. This is especially critical to studying drug addiction and the adolescent brain. It was assumed quite some time ago that the adolescent brain developed around the age of 16 and now studies show it is more like age 26.ÊÊ Many of the patients John sees started using drugs around the age of 14 or 15.
Drug addiction is a chronic relapsing disease process. It is characterized by compulsive drug seeking, cravings and continued use in spite of the consequences.
John said that in the 1930?s we had a legitimate health reason for the use of heroin. We had a whooping cough epidemic and heroin was a great whooping cough suppressant.ÊÊ Unfortunately we didnÕt know the addictive capacity of heroin. Today there is a terribly increasing incident rate of overdosing on the drug.
John said addiction is a treatable illness and it has nothing to do with oneÕs moral fiber or character. It has been proven by technology that there are parts of the brain impacted by drugs and alcohol use that just a few years ago were not identified. Because of the incredible improvement in technology they can now look at someoneÕs brain with an addiction problem and see what is going on. He showed pictures of a normal brain and its functioning capacity and then pictures of someone who had used cocaine for various periods of time and the dysfunction of the cerebral cortex. It is a neurological problem.
ÒWhy do people use drugs?Ó John said because in the beginning it makes you feel good. All drugs release a neurotransmitter called dopamine. ItÕs the neurotransmitter that regulates the feelings of pleasure, movement, emotion, cognition and motivation. The over stimulation of the pleasure center in the brain is what teaches the brain to become addicted to something. The concept is called post-synaptic potentiation. He explained it is why someone must go from one can of beer to four, or six, or eight to get the same effect that the one can of beer used to give them. Basically your neurological condition has changed to tolerate what it is that you are doing.
He also said that addiction is a learned behavior. Anytime that you repeat a drug activity it increases the probability that you are going to have some problems. In this case itÕs the pleasure center. People learn to use drugs without having to think about it. Once itÕs conditioned then it is there.
John said that while oneÕs initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, once the drug takes over, causes in the brain eliminate the ability for that person to use self-control.
John said that genetic makeup plays an extremely important part. Environmental and developmental variables also play a part.
John said it takes about 90 days to get someone clean of drugs and alcohol so that they can then see what they are dealing with. He didnÕt say it takes 90 days to cure someone but only that they can then evaluate them neurologically and find a baseline. He referred to it as Òrebooting the brainÓ during this time. They can then get to the bottom of what personality disorder they are dealing with. In other words what neurological conditional it is they need to treat. He said 86% of their patients have a sleep disorder and thatÕs without the drugs.
John said that alcohol is probably the worst drug they treat because it causes more damage than all the others combined. He said that alcohol is most certainly a drug and to be told it isnÕt is wrong.
On the subject of marijuana many people say that it isnÕt an addictive drug. He said that is false and it is extremely addictive.
John said that their website has hundreds of easy to read articles on addiction. They also have a Thursday night public forum at their office in the Sunset Hills Executive Park on Highway 157.Ê Anyone is welcome to attend. [emailÊprotected] 618-692-6880 or 314-651-6864