The Complex Nature of Addiction and Substance Abuse

Addressing the multifaceted nature of addiction, experts elucidate it as a disease intertwined with individual, societal, and genetic aspects, rather than a consequence of mere choice. They call for empathetic, holistic approaches to understanding and addressing substance abuse.

The Complex Nature of Addiction and Substance Abuse
Unravel the complexities of addiction, shedding light on the multifactorial influences and a shift from prejudice to empathy and understanding. Image by Stephanie Ghesquier from Pixabay

The complexities surrounding the consumption and abuse of addictive substances are multifaceted and deeply entrenched in both individual predispositions and societal influences. Experts agree that prejudiced perspectives, such as viewing addicts as mere willing participants in substance abuse, oversimplify a condition that is, in reality, akin to a disease ensnaring its victims.

During a discussion held by the National School of Social Work titled La sobredosis: consecuencia individual o un problema social?, José Francisco Octavio Gómez González, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry, emphasized the multifactorial nature of addiction. He urged a holistic view on abuse and overdoses, linking them to individual experiences and societal pressures rather than mere personal failings.

Gómez González underscored that chronic drug users often do not experience the same level of pleasure as they did at the beginning of their substance use. This is due to changes in the brain’s pleasure circuit, specifically the hippocampus, affecting both memory and sensations associated with pleasure. Prolonged usage alters the response to substances, which psychiatrist Nora Volkow corroborated through studies involving the administration of cocaine, revealing a diminished pleasure response in long-term users.

The interaction between the environment and substance abuse was highlighted with examples from the Vietnam War era when many soldiers engaged in heroin use. Upon returning to their supportive communities and families, numerous soldiers discontinued drug usage, emphasizing the role of environmental and social factors in modulating addictive behaviors.

Mitsi Nieto Durán, a distinguished psychologist and academic, explored societal tendencies to create “scapegoats,” with addicts often being marginalized and stigmatized. Substance users, she explained, should not be branded by their addictions but should be seen as individuals, each with a unique name and story.

Durán questioned the prevalent dichotomy: is overdose a manifestation of individual transgressions, or is it a reflection of societal ailments presenting boundless opportunities for consumption? This intricate interplay between personal and societal influences necessitates a nuanced understanding and approach, with a focus on mental health and self-awareness, allowing individuals to confront their vulnerabilities and addictions.

Escaping Reality and Ancient Practices

Martha Patricia Heredia Ávila drew parallels between modern substance use and ancient practices, where psychoactive substances were employed by shamans and priests in various cultures, like the Mayan and Nahuatl, to establish contact with divinity and foresee events. Contemporary users, she mentioned, frequently seek solace in altered states to escape pain, sadness, fear, and other emotions.

Ávila stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to understanding and addressing addiction, considering both individual characteristics and societal influences, reflecting a multifactorial practice with overdose being fundamentally a social problem.

Rosalía Gabriela Vázquez del Mercado Jiménez accentuated the role of genetics, with certain individuals being predisposed to abusive consumption due to genes inherited from parents, such as the ALDH2 gene. Even socially accepted substances like tobacco and alcohol can hook young people and adolescents, as they affect the central nervous system and produce pleasurable sensations.

The path to understanding and addressing substance abuse and addiction is entangled in a web of individual, societal, and genetic factors. It necessitates empathy, comprehensive approaches, and societal introspection to destigmatize addiction and to foster environments that focus on individual identities and mental health, transcending simplistic and prejudiced views that have long permeated societal perceptions of addiction. The emphasis should not be on the demonization, but rather on the humane understanding and approach to helping individuals ensnared in the cycle of substance abuse.