Tuerk House Blog
Drug addiction is a preventable disease. Results from NIDA-funded research have shown that prevention programs that involve families, schools, communities, and the media are effective in reducing drug abuse. Although many events and cultural factors affect drug abuse trends, when youths perceive drug abuse as harmful, they reduce their drug taking.
No single factor can predict whether or not a person will become addicted to drugs. Risk for addiction is influenced by a person’s biology, social environment, and age or stage of development. The more risk factors an individual has, the greater the chance that taking drugs can lead to addiction. For example:
• Biology. The genes that people are born with––in combination with environmental influences––account for about half of their addiction vulnerability. Additionally, gender, ethnicity, and the presence of other mental disorders may influence risk for drug abuse and addiction.
Drugs are chemicals that tap into the brain’s communication system and disrupt the way nerve cells normally send, receive, and process information. There are at least two ways that drugs are able to do this: (1) by imitating the brain’s natural chemical messengers, and/or (2) by overstimulating the “reward circuit” of the brain.
Some drugs, such as marijuana and heroin, have a similar structure to chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, which are naturally produced by the brain. Because of this similarity, these drugs are able to “fool” the brain’s receptors and activate nerve cells to send abnormal messages.
Other drugs, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, can cause the nerve cells to release abnormally large amounts of natural neurotransmitters, or prevent the normal recycling of these brain chemicals, which is needed to shut off the signal between neurons. This disruption produces a greatly amplified message that ultimately disrupts normal communication patterns.
Addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease that causes compulsive drug seeking and use despite harmful consequences to the individual who is addicted and to those around them. Drug addiction is a brain disease because the abuse of drugs leads to changes in the structure and function of the brain. Although it is true that for most people the initial decision to take drugs is voluntary, over time the changes in the brain caused by repeated drug abuse can affect a person’s self control and ability to make sound decisions, and at the same time send intense impulses to take drugs.
It is because of these changes in the brain that it is so challenging for a person who is addicted to stop abusing drugs. Fortunately, there are treatments that help people to counteract addiction’s powerful disruptive effects and regain control.
Many people do not understand why individuals become addicted to drugs or how drugs change the brain to foster compulsive drug abuse. They mistakenly view drug abuse and addiction as strictly a social problem and may characterize those who take drugs as morally weak. One very common belief is that drug abusers should be able to just stop taking drugs if they are only willing to change their behavior. What people often underestimate is the complexity of drug addiction—that it is a disease that impacts the brain and because of that, stopping drug abuse is not simply a matter of willpower. Through scientific advances we now know much more about how exactly drugs work in the brain, and we also know that drug addiction can be successfully treated to help people stop abusing drugs and resume their productive lives.
Drug abuse and addiction are a major burden to society. Estimates of the total overall costs of substance abuse in the United States—including health- and crime-related costs as well as losses in productivity—exceed half a trillion dollars annually. This includes approximately $181 billion for illicit drugs, $168 billion for tobacco, and $185 billion for alcohol.
July 1, 2009
It’s been a year now since Tuerk House Recovery Centers experienced a change of leadership. During this time, a core group of new and experienced staff has worked to improve the way the Tuerk House does business. We are proud to report the following results:
The Tuerk House infrastructure is stronger and the organization has embarked on expansion and renovation at several of its locations. This past year a dozen men, through our Open Doors Remodeling Vocational Training Program, worked to make the main site on Ashburton Street a better place to live and work. Through dedication and hard work, these men patiently went through most of the 90 rooms to repair and move walls, tile floors, repair ceilings, redecorate and paint. For pennies on the dollar, the facility received a critical facelift provided by men who benefitted from the work experience.
Professionals were contracted to install a new roof, add a sprinkler system and upgrade electrical and HVAC systems. Furniture and appliances donated by generous foundations and individuals have helped soften the institutional feel of the old hospital building. More furniture is due to arrive soon, thanks to a major funder, and in the next year we expect to add carpet and art work to make the place feel even less institutional.
Plans are also underway to redo the landscaping, providing a meditation garden and basketball courts in the backyard, and to further augment the HVAC systems.
June 20, 2009
I’d like to revisit an interesting article on drug policies that appeared in the Economist on March 5. Under a trio of conventions passed by the United Nations in 1961, 1971 and 1988, most countries have little discretion over how they manage drug-taking. Other than for medical or scientific purposes, those that have signed up to the conventions—more than 140 countries to date, including nearly all of the rich world—must maintain the prohibition on the selling and possession of narcotics. Some are enthusiastic in their upholding of the treaties. But others have grown frustrated, and are finding ways of bending the rules.
For the past century the standard-bearer of the prohibition movement has been America, which imprisons more people for drug offences than any other country. But in 13 states the police are instructed not to arrest people for cannabis possession. In Europe, the coffee shops of Amsterdam famously sell cannabis alongside croissants. And other European countries are lenient about stronger drugs. Personal possession of any drug is not a criminal offence in Spain, Portugal, Italy, the Czech Republic or the Baltic states. Some German states and Swiss cantons are similarly relaxed, as are a few Australian states.
Decriminalization means that possessors may be stopped by the police but do not earn a criminal conviction, and that punishments are light: a fine in Spain, for instance, or suspension of one’s driving license in Italy. Drug-takers can escape even this unless aggravating circumstances apply, such as taking the drug in public or after repeated warnings.
The legal gymnastics that allow countries to soften their line in spite of the UN conventions are extraordinary.
May 28, 2009
I had a call from a close friend whose teenage nephew is in real trouble. The 16-year old young man, who grew up in Owings Mills, moved to the West Coast several years ago with his mom and has gotten into using the drug Methamphetamine. He also joined a gang. In fact, my friend had just been out there and had met with the young man who was currently locked up on his first felony charge. "He completely lacked emotion", my friend said as he described his nephew's description of robbing a convenience store and shooting someone in the leg. "He seemed like he just didn't care."