Craig Povey from the Utah Division of Substance Abuse presented at the Four Corners Behavioral Health conference. He said hope and recovery is possible for everyone and no one is a lost cause. It's important to understand the function of the brain in an addiction situation.
Dopamine is the chemical released by the brain as a reward. The motivation to receive this reward or pleasure and euphoria is sometimes at the root of addiction.
Some people who aren't addicted wonder how people become addicted, they say well don't they love their kids; why do they do this? Povey said that when dealing with an addiction you are dealing with the same system that tells you that you are hungry or thirsty. If you go without food and water, then that becomes the most important thing to you. That's why an addict places everything else in the background, nothing else matters except that addiction. In addiction the brain craves that chemical or reaction from the drug and everything else is ignored.
"A teen brain, a developing brain is especially vulnerable. It's just like clay, it's very influenceable. It's just like wet concrete. You can step in it with a boot and you can pull the boot out, but it leaves an impression, it leaves damage behind. The longer the boot stays in the concrete the harder it is to remove. The brain is similar to that, it's easily influenced and hard to remove those influences. You can still get it out, like the boot, but it takes a lot of effort," said Povey.
In people that aren't addicted, feeling pleasure can come with exercise or a spiritual release. Those who use substances to create these feelings cause even more problems in the system they are trying to motivate.
Povey recalled a time he had an injury and he couldn't exercise. He said he turned to food at that time and received his dopamine fix through food. Food can also be an addiction when it is used as a reward. Substance abuse compromises the brains reward and cognitive systems. Damage occurs to a brain's decision making ability and increases vulnerability to other addictions.
One treatment center totally banned the use of tobacco at the facility. Other experts told them that would never work, because people recovering from an addiction couldn't have their tobacco taken away, too. But the wholistic approach worked for that center and the recovering addicts quit smoking too, as they worked their way to a more healthy lifestyle.
Povey said the earlier youth start using alcohol the more likely they are to become problem users. Nationwide 10 percent of fourth graders had admitted to using alcohol. In Utah the alcohol use is about half what it is nationwide. Utah's use is higher for prescription drugs and inhalants. A campaign is going on now in the Four Corners area for prescription drug awareness.
"Substance abuse is an equal destroyer, it affects all walks of life. Everyone is vulnerable. In my own neighborhood there have been marriages breakup and youth with addiction problems," said Povey.
Povey asked the question of how can those who are high risk and using drugs make decisions more like the people who are low risk and don't use drugs. There are perceptions in place that if more drugs are available that use will be higher. As the perception of the availability of drugs go up, use goes up. Povey encouraged people not to overstate or exaggerate the problem. The vast majority of people and kids don't use drugs. There was a perception at a school in Salt Lake that drugs were rampant. The drug dogs were brought in and the lockers searched and in a school of 1,200 students only two busts were made. Be aware of exaggerating the problem.
In the Parents Empowered program, an awareness campaign is underway warning parents that even good kids need help. Good kids need help to stay off of alcohol and drugs. Most addictions peak during the teen years. Most kids will report using drugs they got from their friends. Peer pressure is one of the greatest factors in the start of kids into drugs.
The drug awareness campaigns have taken different forms over the years. In the 80s they tried to scare the youth away from drugs, "Scared Straight," but in most cases it didn't work. Brutal, shocking meth addiction films were made, but a young lady sitting in one of Povey's classes said, 'I don't look like that,' she was a user, but wasn't in the gutter kicking and screaming. So the message was that doesn't always work. Some drug users look the same as a regular guy or gal, they aren't any different. They are your neighbors, they wait on you in a restaurant or at a store. They are just regular people. Regular people with drug problems.
There hasn't been enough research done in prevention to know what really works. The teen brain is different. The teen brain operates on an emotional level. Some of what works for prevention for adults doesn't work for teens. A simulated car crash was set up on a football field for students to observe with mock victims and injuries. The adults at the scene were very affected and some close to tears to see the mock accident and injuries. The teens who were observing said, "Oh, cool a car crash," they were laughing and not taking the whole scene very seriously.
Alcohol is damaging to a teen brain. The ages of 14-15 is a peak developmental time for the teen brain. The concrete is still wet and it's best not to throw in any contaminants. "Don't put stuff in your system you are not able to handle," said Povey.
Povey explained how different adolescent health and behavior problems share common risk factors that could include: substance abuse, violence, delinquency, school dropout, teen pregnancy, depression and anxiety. Community risk factors also come into play with the perception of the ability to obtain drugs in a community. Are common laws and norms favorable to drug use?
Family history is a factor along with any domestic violence abuse in the family. At school risk factors include academic failure and a lack of commitment to school.
Early and persistent antisocial behavior sometimes responds to early intervention for a child as young as elementary school. Teens who alienate themselves and are rebellious will often times get into drug use and this drug will start with associating with friends who use drugs. This can lead to gang involvement and a favorable attitude towards drugs.
Friends are heavy risk factors. If a teen has friends who use, chances are they will begin using at some point. Teens are at a critical time where critical decisions are made.
Social development which encourages healthy behavior is what teens need. Beliefs and standards, rules should be clear; parents should be involved in the teens life. Individual characteristics include the teens ability to develop skills and ties with the community.
Teens need opportunities, recognition, bonding, attachment and commitment, healthy beliefs and clear standards. "Extracurricular activities help protect against risk factors, " said Povey.
Povey said society faces multiple challenges in reaching those in need and providing adequate resources.
Povey said many people within the criminal justice system are addicts and they receive punishment instead of treatment. Addictions are a neuro systems malfunction just like any other disease.
"The initial decision to use drugs is a bad decision. It will change your brain and sometimes you can't just quit," said Povey.
Povey said only a very small percentage of people needing help with substance or alcohol abuse get help. Ninety-five percent of them don't think they need help and don't think they have a problem.
"In Emery County right now there are only 20 people receiving services. "The longer things go untreated, the higher the costs," said Povey.
Povey said one thing family members need to realize when someone goes into treatment is they will have three or four failure episodes before they recover.
More focus needs to be placed on aftercare for when someone comes out of treatment especially a residential treatment center.
More support and improved services need to be offered for this vulnerable period.
"Recovery is not a simple 30 day inpatient program or a trip to a monthly clinic. It is a long term coordinated effort on the part of the individual and the community. It's not an in and out process," said Povey.