Addiction Affects Thousands of Pennsylvanians and Their Families

addiction medicine

In the United States, addiction affects millions of people, including thousands in Pennsylvania. Addiction, also known as substance abuse disorder, is a chronic medical condition characterized by a compulsion to use substances despite losing money, relationships, family members, employment, freedom, health, dignity and even life. Addiction can be a devastating condition, but there is hope. Substance abuse disorder is treatable, and there are many ways healthcare professionals can help those suffering from addiction.

“Addiction is a complex medical condition that affects the brain’s reward, motivation, memory, and related circuitry,” said Ramez Altuwijri, MD, a psychiatrist at the Penn Highlands Behavioral Health Outpatient Center in DuBois. “It is characterized by the pathological pursuit of reward and/or relief through substance use and other behaviors, which results in biological, psychological, social and spiritual consequences. It is important to note that addiction can impact anyone. It is not associated with a certain social or economic status, age, sex or race.”

There is a common misconception that drug addiction is a result of moral weakness or a lack of willpower. This type of thinking leads many to believe that quitting drugs is as simple as making a choice to stop.

In reality, addiction is a chronic disease that alters the brain, making it difficult to quit even for those who desire to do so.

There is no single factor that can determine whether or not a person will develop a drug addiction. Rather, addiction risk is influenced by a variety of factors. Addiction is characterized by an intricate interplay between brain circuits, genetics, the environment and a person’s life experiences. The more risk factors a person has, the higher the likelihood that drug use can lead to addiction.

Addiction involves cycles of relapse and remission. Without proper treatment or recovery efforts, addiction can worsen and cause significant behavioral and social dysfunction.

Addiction medicine specialists offer evidence-based prevention, diagnosis, evaluation, treatment and medical management services for individuals dealing with substance-related health conditions or unhealthy substance use. It is common for family members who are impacted by their loved ones’ substance abuse to seek help from addiction medicine specialists.

“Medication-assisted treatment is a structured approach used to treat various types of addiction, including opioids, alcohol and tobacco,” said Dr. Altuwijri. “The medication helps patients remain in treatment, abstain from drug use and stay alive.”

For opioid addiction, drugs such as Suboxone and Zubsolv are used to decrease cravings and limit withdrawal symptoms by occupying the receptors in the brain that would have been stimulated by drugs like heroin. These medications are not a cure for addiction but allow patients to quickly resume their daily lives and begin counseling to address other issues associated with addiction.

Treatment for alcohol use disorder involves three FDA-approved oral and injectable medications. The length of medication-assisted treatment is indefinite, as patients need to develop the ability to cope with stressors and triggers that previously led to drug or alcohol use before they can discontinue medication.

The initial step towards recovery is acknowledging the issue. Lack of awareness can hinder the recovery process. Although concerned friends and family can intervene and prompt treatment, self-referrals are always welcomed and encouraged.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers outpatient and intensive outpatient (IOP) addiction care. Outpatient treatment serves those with both substance and behavioral (gambling/gaming, sexual, pornography) addictions. The substance use disorder (SUD) treatment is addiction focused and includes individual and/or group therapy. Specialized groups, such as trauma-informed care and relapse prevention also are offered. IOP treatment addresses stress and emotional well-being, as well as the ability to develop and implement skills to increase proper communication and reduce likelihood of relapse and stress. To learn more, visit