Discussions with Docs – Dr. Margaret Meldrum

National Recovery Month 

Recovery is For Everyone: Every Person, Every Family, Every Community, this is the 2021 campaign theme for National Recovery Month. It reminds people in recovery and those who support them that no one is alone in the journey through recovery.

At least 25% of the population belongs to a family affected by an addiction disorder in a first-degree relative. According to the Federal Reserve’s annual report on the economic well-being of U.S. households, one in five Americans now know someone personally who has suffered from opioid addiction, and at least 25% of the population belongs to a family affected by a substance use disorder in a first-degree relative. The data also suggest that up to 90% of individuals with active addiction live at home with a family or significant other.

Addiction is often referred to as a “family disease” to highlight the impact that substance use disorder can have, and the interrelated nature of, substance use within family units. Family members are often in a position to assist in diagnosis or problem identification, and can play an important role in encouraging substance use treatment and recovery.

Some characteristics of addiction are similar to other chronic diseases. Just like cardiovascular disease damages the heart and changes its function, addiction changes the brain and hinders the way it works. Addiction is similar to chronic diseases in the following ways: 

  • It is preventable
  • It is treatable
  • It changes biology
  • If untreated, it can last a lifetime 

Substance of misuse trick the brain’s reward system. The way a brain signals pleasure is through the release of a chemical messenger called dopamine. Generally, this is a good thing; it ensures people will seek out things needed for survival. However, substance misuse such as nicotine, alcohol, and heroin also cause the release of dopamine. 

Over time, drugs become less rewarding, and craving for the drug takes over. The brain adapts to the effects of the drug (an effect known as tolerance), and because of these brain adaptations, dopamine has less impact. People who develop an addiction find that the drug no longer gives them as much pleasure as it used to, and that they have to take greater amounts of the drug more frequently to feel high.

One thing to remember is that you can recover. But it takes time. There are many different pathways to recovery from alcohol and other drug use disorders. Clinical pathways are recovery processes aided by the services of a health care provider, clinician, or other credentialed professional. Non-clinical pathways are recovery processes that do not involve a trained clinician, but are often community-based and utilize peer support. Self-management pathways are recovery processes that involve no formal services. 

Thomas Health offers a variety of substance abuse and mental health services – inpatient, outpatient programs are available. The Behavioral Health Center provides comprehensive, compassionate programs for adult psychiatric and substance abuse patients. Our Geropsych Unit is designed to meet the special physical and psychiatric needs of geriatric psychiatric patients. The Addiction Healing Center at Saint Francis Hospital (substance use disorder), Southway Outpatient Services (psychiatric services) provides help on an outpatient or partial hospitalization basis, and Pregnancy Connections. 

To access any of our programs, for more information, to schedule assessments or for referrals, call the Thomas Behavioral Health Connections (304) 766-3553 or 1 (800) 992-3010. Individuals seeking psychiatric or substance abuse services will receive immediate attention. Referrals are accepted 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from physicians, mental health professionals, community agencies, judicial systems, businesses, clergy, schools, families, friends and individuals.