A leading expert on addictions says there still remains a "tremendous misunderstanding" about the problem in our society.
"People see addictions as some lifestyle choice that somebody makes," said Dr. Gabor Mate, a physician, public speaker and best-selling author.
"Nobody wakes up and says, 'My ambition is to become an addict,'" he added.
Mate was a keynote speaker at the Chatham-Kent Addictions Awareness Conference in Chatham on Tuesday, which a collaborative effort between the Chatham-Kent Health Alliance Mental Health & Addictions Program and the Chatham-Kent Community Health Centres.
Mate said addiction is a response to suffering and most people who are severely addicted were traumatized as children. As a result, he said, people in this situation have pain they try to soothe with drugs.
"People who are sufferers of early adversity tend to have brains that are more prone to be attuned to the addictive substance," he added.
He said many people don't understand addiction and are frightened of it.
Addictions are rife in society, because a lot of people are using food, gambling, Internet, work, shopping or sex, to soothe their pain and distress, he added.
"We just don't like to recognize how common this problem is, so we single out the drug addict as being somehow different than the rest of us."
Looking at addiction as a disease is valid, Mate said, but noted, "at the same time, it has to be seen as more than a disease, it has to be seen as a social, economic and childhood developmental problem.
"We have to look at it in all its different dimensions. It's not any one pain."
Mate, who is author of the award-winning book 'In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction,' said treatment for addiction is a long process that requires support, compassion, understanding and patience to deal with addicts.
"Unfortunately, as a society we're spending the money on building jails instead of providing treatment."
He said if you take a young person who is committing petty crimes to feed a drug habit and stick them in jail, all that is going to happen is they will be more entrenched in their drug use when they come out.
Mate said what's lacking in their lives is nurturing relationships with adults, and proper support.
While public understanding may be lacking, Paula Reaume-Zimmer, Chatham-Kent Health Alliance mental health and addictions program and emergency services program director, said mental health and addictions has moved to the top of the agenda of the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.
"I think people are finally getting the message about the importance of mental health and addictions, and the implications on health care services and general welfare of a community if those two elements aren't addressed," she said.
Locally, Reaume-Zimmer said there has been a shift from just having the CKHA mental health and addictions program in the community to offer assessment and referral to moving it to the primary care sector.
She said there are primary health teams, locally, with social workers and therapists "who can start delivering addiction services sooner than later."
By Ellwood Shreve, QMI Agency
Tuesday, November 13, 2012 6:24:13 EST PM
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