Should Addiction be Treated Like Cancer?

It is strange to see the difference in culture and reactions to family challenges. On one hand, when a family member is sick, it seems like everyone rallies around them. Visitation, food trays, prayers, support. You name it. It’s the beauty of family. Talking to your kids about it is also fairly natural. When a family member is facing a life-ending illness, parents are quick to devise a way to talk about death and dying.

The same doesn’t yet seem to hold up with another disease. One that millions of families, moms, dads, grandparents, aunts, uncles, brothers struggle with, namely addiction and the treatment of addiction. Oh, and there’s the mental health stuff on top of that. It seems this kind of thing is far more challenging for folks to perceive, and certainly to discuss openly with family. Children especially.

According to the many statistics I have read, addiction is still very much viewed as a moral issue. One that is stigmatized and prevents people from asking for help. Who really wants to tell their spouse that they are hooked on a drug with an attachment so potent that they might need a drug detox could be pulled from their family, life, or even worse: hurt others. And something like bipolar or schizophrenia? Who wants to explain that to your kids even if you have a beautiful mind? Would you feel good needing to drug test your spouse?

On the other hand, as we learn more, things begin to change. In a recent statement by the Attorney General about addiction and drug use, he categorically stated that it was a brain disorder, a disease that should be viewed as such.

One such example of this perspective is Laura Hilgers, a writer who has lived with addiction and lymphoma in her family, and believes it should be treated like cancer.

Hilgers wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times about dealing with addiction in her family. The story opens with Hilgers being at the hospital for her stepbrother, who had stage 4 lymphoma. “Around the same time, I was helping my 22-year-old daughter, who struggled with alcohol and drug addiction,” she writes. “The contrast between the two experiences was stark. While my stepbrother received a doctor’s diagnosis, underwent a clearly defined treatment protocol and had his expenses covered by insurance, there was no roadmap for my daughter.”

In trying to help her daughter, Hilgers was stumbling around in the dark a lot. “I spent weeks calling programs, asking questions and waiting to learn what insurance would cover.”

Hilgers did find a program for her daughter, and sent her on her way “praying it would work,” but she discovered that “addiction, like cancer, is a complex disease that requires a multipronged approach. It also affects 1.5 times as many people as those with all caners combined…it makes no sense that what is fast becoming our greatest health care crisis is still dealt with mostly outside the mainstream medical system.”

Hilgers cites the surgeon general, who defines addiction as a “chronic neurological disorder,” and she quoted one doctor who said, “Treatment for addiction works, on par with treatment for other chronic relapsing disorders. So it’s not really that there’s no road map. It’s that the road map has not been recognized or embraced by the house of medicine.”

Hilgers would like to see the day when a hospital could help someone coming into the emergency room who suffers from addiction “an find a protocol in place for immediate treatment, just as my stepbrother experienced with lymphoma…The millions of people still suffering from addiction, and those in recovery, deserve the same level of gold-standard care that saved my stepbrother and my daughter, both of whom are now in remission.”

I don’t think the Hilgers perspective will mirror that of the rest of us overnight, and I can still see why many families will struggle with this part of the deal, but as parents, and as thought leaders for the next generation I think it’s important to get ahead of the curve.

This is a featured post by site partner Bancs Wellness.

Photo: Getty Images

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