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Prestera Center: Short history of a brain disease

Feb. 22, 2013 @ 11:09 AM

Since the dawn of mankind, people everywhere have altered their reality by fermenting beverages and consuming them to ease the aches and pains of daily life. Human suffering requires some type of mood or mind-altering substance to cope with daily life. Native American “peace pipes,” homemade alcohol like “bathtub gin” or “moonshine,” ceremonial hallucinogens like peyote or “magic mushrooms” or just a “sugar rush” are part of some cultures and rites of passage into adulthood.  

Scientists encourage having one glass of red wine a day, which can prevent heart disease or other health problems. Many people are said to drink “socially” or to use drugs “recreationally,” while others have their lives destroyed by alcohol and other drugs.  

During the 19th Century, strong pain relievers like morphine, heroin and cocaine were discovered and were widely available. The popular soft drink that still bears parts of the name of “coca” was originally formulated with highly addictive cocaine to keep customers coming back for more. “Tonics” were sold door-to-door and included drugs like opium, paregoric, belladonna and codeine. Pharmacies freely dispensed any drug anybody wanted, without prescriptions.   Addiction to drugs was widespread and “opium dens” were common across the United States. There were no laws regulating or prohibiting drugs, but society frowned on women and young people who ruined their lives using drugs.  

As the drug problem escalated, in the early 20th Century, cities and then states began passing laws prohibiting or controlling drugs. People looked to the U.S. government to take control of the problem and law enforcement agencies like the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) were born. Anti-drug laws started passing like the “Pure Food and Drug Act” in 1906, which changed the thinking of the American public to view drugs like morphine, cocaine and marijuana as “dangerous.” Drug use in the United States declined so much before World War II that it seemed it was a problem of the past.

By the 1960s, Americans had long forgotten the problems caused by drugs in earlier generations. Drugs came back to the forefront of “hippie” culture. The social popularity of drugs like marijuana and hallucinogens like “acid” became widely popular among young people. The availability of prescription amphetamines and strong tranquilizers — “uppers” and “downers” — made them part of the drug menu. During this time, using drugs was seen as a normal rite of passage into adulthood and the Baby Boomer generation was hooked.  

Striking a war on drugs, law enforcement and punishment of drug users became the focus of combating the problem.  Viewed as a “social problem among anti-socials,” the fitting punishment seemed to be incarceration. In 2013, there often remains an emphasis on punishing the person to resolve the problem, which may not always be a completely effective solution as evidenced by rising recidivism.

Addiction is a brain disease. Diseases do not respond well to punishment. Addiction is a disease because, like other diseases, it is chronic (does not go away on its own), primary (is a problem in and of itself, not just caused by another problem) and progressive (gets worse as time goes along and allowed to continue).  

Researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (www.drugabuse.gov) are able to show on brain scans the difference between a brain on drugs and a brain not on drugs. To oversimplify a complex brain disease, in an addicted brain, the natural “feel OK” chemicals are not produced at sufficient quantities (like seratonin, dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine). The addicted brain is deprived of the ability to feel OK, it is constantly running on empty, looking for the next rush of chemicals that using drugs brings.  

One structure deep within the brain commonly named the “pleasure pathway” is responsible for addiction. It unconsciously is reinforced by consistent drug or alcohol use, causing the person to continue to seek those pleasurable feelings produced by alcohol and other drugs (despite the consequences). While there is still much to learn about addiction and brain disease, there is more science in treatment today. The problem is better understood as a brain disease and science has proven there are treatments that are effective, like medications and behavioral therapy that motivate people to sustain recovery.  

Prestera Center is committed to using the most recent advancements in the field and incorporating those advancements into daily practice. According to Susan Coyer, director of Grants and Contracts at Prestera Center, “Our treatment has expanded and evolved to meet the more complex needs of addicts and alcoholics. People seeking treatment are getting younger and are more severely addicted than ever before, so our treatment services have to evolve to meet changing needs.”  

Prestera Center offers Putnam County residents access to effective mental health and addictions treatment services in Winfield and Hurricane. Offices in Winfield are located at 3389 Winfield Road, Suite 8, on the grounds of the Courthouse Complex. Professionals are available to see new people, answer questions, provide services to children, adolescents and families, adults with depression or anxiety or more severe mental health problems or anyone with addiction or substance abuse problems. The Winfield location is taking new clients by appointment at 304-586-0670 and walk-ins are welcome Monday through Friday between 8 and 9 a.m.  

Offices in Hurricane are called “Hopewell” and are located at 3772 Teays Valley Road, Suite 2. The Hopewell offices specialize in serving adults with insurance in need of addiction treatment, medication-assisted addiction treatment and mental health problems like depression and anxiety or more severe mental health problems. The Hopewell offices in Hurricane are also accepting new clients and scheduling appointments by phoning 304-757-8475.   

Kim Miller is the director of Corporate Development at Prestera. She can be reached at kim.miller@prestera.org.