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What Reality TV Doesn't Teach Us About Addiction

September 23, 2013
by Megan Rozsa, Associate Editor of Reader Engagement
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It's easy to judge when you're uninformed. Why NCAD was an eye-opening experience for me.
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I'm guilty.
Guilty of passing judgement on addicts without knowing anything about them. Guilty of not doing my own research into addiction before I judged. Guilty of taking everything reality TV shows tell me about addiction at face value. 
I am the associate editor of reader engagement at Vendome Media Group. I started roughly two weeks ago, so this was my first time attending the National Conference on Addiction Disorders and Behavioral Healthcare Leadership Summit. I didn't know anything about addiction besides what I let TV teach me. After spending these last two days in sessions, my eyes are wide open and my jaw is on the floor. 
Reality TV doesn't even scratch the surface of what addiction is all about. For someone like me, who isn't an addiction professional, how would I know that we all have genes that make us more or less likely to become an addict?
In his session Sunday, Norman Hoffmann, PhD, adjunct professor of psychology at Western Carolina University, said the younger someone is when exposed to an addictive substance, the more likely they are to become an addict later. 
In a 2000 study with 7th graders, Hoffmann said 22 percent of the students who admitted to being occasional smokers reported nicotine dependence within four weeks. He added that the adolescent brain doesn't even mature until age 20. So while we're out being experimental and making seemly bad decisions (which we know are bad just on moral standards), we're unaware just how bad the decision is based on our genetic makeup.
So if you smoke that cigarette or try that drug and don't like it, that's not you talking, it's your genes. How astounding is that?
Hoffmann said nicotine is a gateway drug for two reasons: it starts early and it predisposes your to response to other substances.
So what about the reasons people become addicts? It's not always because they like the substance, but about the circumstances in which they started using it. 
In his session on the Origins of Addiction, Dr. Vincent Felitti, talked about one patient who was 400 pounds and smoked three packs of cigarettes a day. Felitti and his team were able to get her down to 130 pounds, and thought they were on the right track to curing her obesity. 
After a while, the woman suddenly gained 37 pounds in three weeks, and Felitti asked her what happened. She told him a married man at work complimented her appearance and propositioned her. The woman had such an adverse reaction that she started binge eating. Felitti later found out that this was her response to sexual advances as a result of an incestuous relationship with her grandfather. 
Eating was this woman's solution to a problem. She wanted to gain weight so no one would make advances on her.
It's issues like these where reality television fails to inform. We can't pinpoint when a person started using, drinking or eating excessively. When they talk to show psychologists, they never mention genetics.




You nailed it, Megan. It's so easy to judge. It's far harder to be compassionate.


Megan Combs

Associate Editor of Reader Engagement

Megan Combs




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