Addiction is a brain disease, not a moral failing, says Anita Cornett, MD, an addiction medicine doctor at AdventHealth Manchester who runs the Whole-Person Recovery Clinic.
The use of opiates can change our brain to crave the drug and, eventually, to need it to even feel at peace. Nothing but opioids is satisfying to a brain shaped by their abuse.
Meanwhile, if the brain stops receiving opioids, it triggers agonizing withdrawal symptoms.
For someone with addiction, finding the next dose is “really all they can think about,” Dr. Cornett says. “They make bad decisions and hurt people they love, and it’s all because their brain has been altered.”
There are many paths to overcoming addiction. At the Whole-Person Recovery Clinic, which opened last fall and treats alcohol and opioid addiction, the first step is quieting the brain’s desperate need for opioids.
This can be accomplished with a medication called Suboxone. This chemical stops withdrawal symptoms, giving people the time and space to beat addiction.
That’s where counseling comes in. The Whole-Person Recovery Clinic has clinical social workers and case management services to help get your whole life back on track. That includes help finding a place to live and work.
This is critical because learning other ways to cope with stress is key to breaking addiction.
This is what treating the whole person means: medication to reduce your brain’s need for opioids combined with licensed counselors and social workers to meet your emotional and spiritual needs.
For many people, the use of medication to treat addiction is a critical but misunderstood element of recovery.
How Suboxone Works
Opioids like heroin produce their pleasurable effects by sticking to parts of brain cells called “receptors.” Suboxone sticks to these receptors, too, preventing withdrawal.
The brain is happy, in other words, because its opioid receptors are occupied. Suboxone can cause a high, too, but this is rare and much less intense than one from heroin or other drugs.
Importantly, Suboxone has another chemical to prevent its abuse. It’s called naloxone (better known as Narcan) and it only takes effect if a person tries to inject or snort Suboxone. If this happens, the naloxone immediately triggers withdrawal symptoms.
Because it’s more difficult to abuse, Suboxone can be given to patients to take home. That means there’s no need to visit a clinic every day, as is needed for methadone therapy.
Medication like Suboxone is just the beginning, Dr. Cornett says. But for many people it’s a critical one.
“When they’re not on Suboxone, they can’t focus on counseling, all they can think about is the drug,” she says.
Overcoming Suboxone Stigma
Even for all its effectiveness at eliminating withdrawal, this much is true: Suboxone contains an opioid and can itself be addictive.
As a result, people with addiction sometimes hear from friends, family and clergy who them that they are simply replacing one addiction with another one, Dr. Cornett said.
But when people who’ve been addicted to opioids take Suboxone, the difference between the two becomes clear.
“They often tell me that it’s changed their life, saved their life,” Dr. Cornett says. “They can be the people they really want to be. They don’t go to bed thinking about it, they’re not impaired, they can go to work, go to school, be good parents and good spouses.”
Still, she hears this objection often and responds by making a comparison to diabetes. That disease is often caused by poor eating decisions and weight gain.
“Just like insulin helps diabetics, Suboxone helps people with addiction,” she says.
Whole-Person Treatment Makes Us Unique
Addiction isn’t only about brain chemistry. It’s also shaped by our everyday lives, like who we spend time with and how we cope with stress. Even if medication reduces cravings for opioids, a person with addiction may turn to another drug, like alcohol or methamphetamines.
Counseling, both in groups and one-on-one, helps give people the skills to deal with stress without using drugs.
Dr. Cornett also bolsters her patients’ spirits.
“I tell them each visit I’m proud of them and encourage them to dream,” she says. “I want to help them just be the person God’s created them to be.”
People in the Manchester area have plenty of options for addiction therapy, Dr. Cornett says.
“I think what makes us unique is that we really care about these people,” she says. “I get to know them as a person, and make sure their other health needs, like vaccinations, are being met.”
That’s part of taking care of the whole person, and the fruits of this approach bring joy to her, as well.
“It’s extremely rewarding to see patients come in and say they were able to get a car loan, get a job or be able to take their kids on vacation because they weren’t worried about being able to find drugs,” she said. They can rediscover an authentic version of themselves.
AdventHealth Manchester’s Whole-Person Recovery Clinic has your physical, emotional and spiritual health in mind. If you’re living with addiction, it’s not your fault, but finding help is within your control. If your loved one is suffering from addiction, we can help you support them.
To learn more, visit our website or call Call606-598-4538.