By all means, the most effective way to treat any chronic illness is to work on preventing it in the first place. Rehab programs such as Ashley exist precisely because of the difficulty other social programs are having in predicting and intervening with addiction. Five million youths, from the ages of 12 to 20, have admitted to binge drinking in the past few months. Although we as a nation have exercised tremendous resources into preventative programs for youths, the effectiveness of these programs has been questionable at best, and trends in usage are growing. We’re now facing an unprecedented addiction epidemic where children and teens, in their most vulnerable years, are at highest risk. Our job is to identify the youths who could not be prevented from addiction, diagnose them, and develop treatment techniques that take into consideration their unique circumstances.
There is no question that we should be doing everything we can to prevent minors from abusing drugs and alcohol, but under current circumstances we need to be putting substantial resources into caring for those who are already afflicted. One of the most crucial aspects of this is distinguishing treatment modalities between adults and youths (under the age of 25).
Brain plasticity is its highest leading up to the age of 18, meaning traumatic events such as substance abuse have a window for serious damage to a developing teenager, and could still have a particularly strong effect up to age 25. Certain drug exposure during that 25-year period of brain development is linked to long-term psychiatric disabilities and short-term attention deficits, which fuel nicotine usage. It’s an infinite feedback loop where addiction causes damage to the brain that makes further drug abuse more likely.
The question of why we become addicted is far older than the history of rehabilitation facilities. One of the prevailing modern arguments is that addiction is a response to being socially disconnected. Other models link it more heavily toward stress or trauma, but those models don’t account for why the largest increases in opioid overdoses we’ve seen were in cities (54%) and the American Midwest (70%), areas where social disconnects were severe in their own ways.
The Midwest is the least densely populated region of the U.S., with social disconnect being a geographical phenomenon—simply too much area is farmland with small families managing giant acres of crops. In the cities, a mix of technology and finances plays a larger role in the isolation. The cost of living in these areas has skyrocketed so immensely above salaries that working two or three jobs has become commonplace, even with dual-income families. In response to the financial crisis of 2008, many Millennials also feel disposable at their workplace, putting in more hours and forfeiting 26% more vacation time that any other generation. At the same time, Americans have been spending 100 million hours a day watching videos on Facebook alone.
Addiction professionals annually convene at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders to share what’s working: Clinicians hear from thought leaders on delivering treatment, while executives of behavioral healthcare organizations learn how to run more effective, more efficient, and ethically minded businesses.