LIMA — When the term “drug addict” is mentioned, it might evoke images of someone getting high at a party or a delinquent who got hooked while beginning a life of crime. However, a seminar conducted Friday at Lima Senior High School looked to shatter that stereotype by examining the science behind addiction and the effects of substance abuse on the brain itself.
The “Understanding Addiction: Squirrel Logic” conference, organized by Coleman Professional Services, brought nearly 250 people to Lima Senior to hear from Brad Lander, the clinical director of the Addiction Medicine Department at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. The term “squirrel logic” refers to the inner struggle people face between satisfying immediate needs and considering long-term consequences, a struggle that is exacerbated by substance abuse.
“When we look at the way the human brain operates, we have a system which is essentially a ‘squirrel’ brain or an ‘animal’ brain,” Lander said. “This animal brain just wants what it wants when it wants it. It is very impulsive and doesn’t have any view of the future or any idea of how that would affect all the other squirrels in the woods. Addiction roots itself in that brain.”
Countering that is what Lander called the “executive” brain, the part that considers consequences to actions on that person and others. Opioids and other drugs can help propel the more base desires of the brain to supersede the more rational part of the brain, even at an biochemical level.
“You may say, ‘I wouldn’t steal,’ but if you get hungry enough, you would do it,” Lander said. “You’d feel bad about it, but you’d still do it. The animal brain is the base, so when it asserts control, it can dominate.”
This internal conflict can lead to overwhelming feelings of guilt and shame for addicts who do not want to see their addiction destroy their lives and yet feel powerless to stop it.
“Addicts are just as frustrated about this,” Lander said. “They have enough guilt and shame. What they need is love and understanding.”
This internal battle is being seen at even greater levels with the epidemic of opioid addiction, according to Tammie Colon, Coleman’s Chief Officer of Behavioral Health Services, with addiction crossing geographic, ethnic and socioeconomic boundaries.
“People can be in denial that it could happen to them or their family,” she said. “The likelihood that any family will escape this is very slim.”
Lima Mayor David Berger is hopeful that seeing the science of addiction and its effect on the brain helped dispel any notions among those in attendance that addiction is something one can overcome on a whim.
“The presentation has been very appropriate for a general audience,” he said. “The language and illustrations make it very evident that the science behind this approach is very conclusive.”