by: Fardous Hosseiny
Addiction is a brain disease. I know this. And I know quite a bit about it.
I could tell you that cocaine originates in a region of the midbrain called the ventral tegmental area which extends to dopamine-rich regions like the nucleus accumbens, caudate nucleus, and putamen and specifically works by blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse, which results in an accumulation of dopamine and causes that initial euphoria.
I could tell you alcohol increases the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain and inhibits the neurotransmitter glutamate, causing the physiological slowdown, while at the same time increasing dopamine levels in the brain to give you that feeling of pleasure.
My education has taught me significant things about addiction and I am thankful for that but what it was ineffective at was that it never taught me about the beauty of recovery. And let me tell you, it is quite a beautiful thing.
My education taught me that recovery from alcohol and drug problems is a process of change throughout, in which an individual attains abstinence. And that is it. End of story. That’s all we were really taught about recovery. I could talk to no end on the role of addiction on the brain (like I did earlier) but recovery gets the short end of the stick. To be honest, this is a tad bit of an exaggeration because it did teach me that recovery is a lifelong battle because of the physiological changes to the brain. It did teach me that prolonged abstinence may allow brain activity to get back to normal level of functioning (although never really completely). It did teach me that cues and contexts could trigger a relapse after abstinence. Again more brain stuff, but it did not teach me about the brilliance of recovery.
Walking into Renascent on my first day was exciting and nerve-racking but all of my coworkers were very welcoming. A couple of days went by and nothing out of the ordinary happened until one of my coworkers made a comment about a time he remembers anxiously sitting on the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas waiting for his dealer to come by. Given we were an accredited treatment centre, I found this a bit unusual but then he went on to tell me he has been sober for 18 years and he can look back at those days now and laugh about it. I would have never known he was in recovery unless he mentioned it to me, because I never knew recovery could look that good.
One of the great things about Renascent is many of the staff have lived experiences and are in active recovery. I could line them all up and I promise you, you would not be able to tell. I could not tell. I have a master’s degree in science and I could probably tell you who is in active addiction but I would not be able to tell you who is in active recovery. Let me tell you a bit about the beauty of recovery. First, you can’t tell the difference between someone who used to have an addiction problem (active recovery) and someone who has never had a problem with drugs; second, they are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. Brilliant and kind. Dedicated and helpful. All adjectives most people would not associate with someone who has had an addiction problem because of the stigma associated with this disease but these are the perfect adjectives to portray them.
Our education system does a remarkable job in teaching us about addiction and the brain but it could do a better job in teaching us about the beauty of recovery. If we educate our students better about recovery, this will equip them in the battle against stigma. Addiction is a disease—point blank.“You would not shame a diabetic for having an issue with sugar and we should not have a negative attitude towards people with an addiction problem and it starts with educating our students who in turn can help build awareness, eliminate stigma and remove barriers to people finding recovery.
Addiction is the disease, abstinence is the cure and recovery is the outcome. And it’s astonishingly beautiful.