As always, the sessions in the series are geared toward health care professionals and the challenges they face as practitioners, but the information and advice the speakers share is engaging and relevant to almost anyone.
Caregivers and Addiction
To start off, Rigo asked Dr.Cummins about how addicted caregivers are different from the general population.
"In some ways, they're just like the general population. Roughly 10% of the general population suffers from addiction, and healthcare workers are no different. In fact, they might even be a little bit worse. They're a unique population because they're educated, have a degree, a 401k, a nice car, etc. They have it really well organized and put together in most ways, and the addiction is this one little way on the side where they're really in chaos. The same thing goes for other professionals like that, like politicians, pilots, and business owners."
Social Attitudes and Addiction
From there, Dr.Cummins and Rigo explored the way addiction has been treated in the past and how that's changing for the future. Dr.Cummins defined historic attitudes towards addition as framed by three distinct communities, all of which have all influenced the public attitudes, policies, and treatment options for addiction:
o Doctors and those in the medical community have understood for a very long time that addiction is a disease and should be treated as such.
o The legal community tends to react punitively towards addiction by criminalizing it. Typically, they demonstrate less compassion and more contempt for addicted individuals.
o The spiritual community has historically viewed addiction as a moral failing or lack of self-control. That attitude adds guilt to addicts who are already suffering.
However, Dr.Cummins is optimistic. He believes public awareness and attitudes are slowly shifting towards addiction being viewed as a medical condition, and that will make treatment easier to get and more effective. "I think you need out spiritual leaders and our legal providers involved...but medicine should be handling this."
What is the "Best" Treatment for Substance Use?
When asked about which treatment options work “best” for those with substance use disorder – in particular, whether total abstinence or medication-assisted treatment is better – Dr. Cummins explained there is no “right” answer. “Every medical condition is like that. There’s a lot of treatment options and you need to have a big toolbox to treat each patient appropriately… They’re both right, depending on the situation.”
Mental Health and Substance Use
Rigo and Dr. Cummins also discussed the ways in which mental health plays a role in substance use disorder and its treatment. Dr. Cummins pointed out that almost everyone has battled some sort of mental health issue in their lifetime, from anxiety or insomnia to trauma, major depression, and bipolar disorder. Mental health issues are nearly universal. However, he says, “addiction and mental health are so intertwined, you can’t even tell them apart sometimes. Mental illness makes you much more likely to suffer from substance use and addiction at some point in your life. And if you have no real mental health problems, becoming addicted can induce mental health problems.” Dual diagnosis, which recognizes and addresses both conditions, is the gold standard of addiction treatment.
Of course, Dr. Cummins also shared some important ways that we can keep ourselves healthy in the wake of the extra stress brought on by COVID-19 and growing daily responsibilities – especially for people in caregiver positions:
o Prioritize self-care. “Making self-care a priority in your life—your highest priority— everyone else will benefit, all of the people in your circle—your spouse, your kids, your coworkers, your church, your community, all the people and things you interact with, they’ll benefit from you being a better version of yourself.”
o If you are quietly suffering from mental health challenges such as anxiety, insomnia, or depression, talk to your primary care physician. They can either help or point you in the right direction to find help.
o If your substance use is becoming a problem, reach out to professional groups (such as the AANA), community groups, or accredited addiction treatment centers that have resources in place to help.
o Practice that great trio of healthy living: healthy diet, mindfulness and/or meditation, and exercise.
o Take time to unwind and spend dedicated time with loved ones. Put this time on your calendar and commit to it.