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Counselor shows evolution of addiction as disease
Written by Greg Ruland   
Thursday, 28 July 2011 00:00

Constant substance abuse by loved ones frequently provokes the question, “Why can’t they just stop?”

Some people take illegal drugs and drink alcohol so often, those closest to them begin to wonder about their moral character, judging them to be depraved and unworthy.

“A lot of people don’t understand what it is and how it comes to be. It kind of sneaks up on folks. A lot of folks think it’s poor morals in a person or lack of will power,” said John Schuderer, a licensed independent substance abuse counselor affiliated with West Yavapai Guidance Clinic in Prescott.

Schuderer, who is also an Arizona licensed professional counselor, responds to these and other concerns during his presentation for Yavapai County Substance Abuse Coalition Lunch ’n’ Learn on Thursday, July 28.

The program, What is Addiction? The Evolution of a Disease, explains the behaviors and thought processes of addicts and alcoholics in terms easily understood by people struggling with these issues, their friends and family, Schuderer said.

“When we’re little kids we get asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’” Schuderer said. “No one ever says, ‘I want to be a drug addict or an alcoholic,’ but it happens. People don’t understand how it happens to themselves or their loved ones.”

The program shows how experimentation with drugs and alcohol can lead to addiction, he said.

“I’ll be focusing on brain chemistry,” Schuderer said.

“If you think about the learning process, it’s done through repetition. In many ways, substance abuse and alcoholism works the same way. By repeatedly putting substances into your body, you learn to live with increased levels of toxins in your body.”

Over time, living with toxic levels of drugs or alcohol in the body becomes normal. Body systems adapt to this new normal. New electrochemical pathways are imprinted on the brain as it attempts to reestablish a normal balance.

“These neurological pathways get developed. Then, when you try to stop, those pathways are now saying, ‘Hey, we’re not normal anymore.’ That’s where you get cravings, anxiety, irritation, anger. Those types of emotions come up under stress when you’re not normal,” Schuderer said.

The measurable, physiological changes to the body brought on by the constant presence of toxins are what qualify alcoholism and drug addiction as a form of disease. The behaviors bring on the disease, he said.

Coming to understand the nature of their disease through treatment gives addicts and alcoholics a tremendous sense of relief.

“When you are told you are not an immoral person or somebody with low will power — that it’s your brain — that relieves a whole lot of shame and guilt. That’s part of the process. You’re trying to break a belief system. I think it goes a long way toward getting people on a path to recovery,” Schuderer said.

What is Addiction? touches on treatment, but the focus will be on teaching people about how addiction works. There will be some illustrations, but no photos of needles or bottles or alleyway drunks.

“Those can be triggers for people,” he said.

The presentation takes place live in Prescott and simultaneously via video transmission at the Yavapai County Cottonwood Annex starting at 11:30 a.m. People are encouraged to bring a bag lunch to the presentation. For more information, call (928) 708-0100.


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