I started Run Leelanau because I love where I live and my favorite way to explore this area is by running. My daily runs are full of beauty – much of which I showcase via social media. However, Northern Michigan is not without its flaws. This region, just like (literally) every region in the United States, is deep in the throes of the opiate epidemic.
As someone who works daily with people who suffer from addiction, the amount of judgment and lack of empathy from the general public is horrifying and disgusting. Every time an overdose is reported in our local news, the comments section is full of ridiculous statements like, “Natural selection,” “You can’t fix stupid,” and “Poor parenting leads to heroin addiction.” It makes me want to rip my hair out. Just typing those sentences out is making me clench my jaw to a point where it hurts.
People who display anything but sympathy or empathy for an addict are uneducated, small thinkers, and sad.
And yes, I am comfortable making that bold, generalized statement about people who judge addicts. Because the truth is, those who are judging the opiate addicts are likely facing an addiction of their own. Research has shown us over and over that addiction, no matter the substance, impacts our brains similarly.
Please note that people can be addicted to:
Drugs, food, exercise, gambling, social media, attention, television, video games, sex, shopping, work, and the list goes on, and on, and on.
It’s easy to say I am addicted to running. I get a boost in my mood after a run and crave it regularly. But I’m not foolish enough to think my only addiction is running. I’m well aware of the dopamine spike I feel when I eat an ice cream cone or some other excessively sugar-based item. In fact, food used to be my coping mechanism. I weighed around 200 pounds when I was 14-years-old. The difficulty with food addiction is you can’t ever actually quit – you just have to manage and maintain. My current relationship with food is much more reasonable, as I realize the importance of eating for fuel and have developed a greater sense of control. But I still live in a culture that uses food for everything – celebrations, dealing with sadness, family functions- it’s often the foundation for many gatherings and events.
So many Americans are addicted to food. Our obesity rates speak for themselves. The CDC reports that 70.7% of American adults are overweight. A good section of that percentage can be explained by food addiction and eating habits. The way opiates impact the brain is similar, but exponentially greater. When we eat or exercise, dopamine gets released and tells us to keep doing the thing that released it. The brain wants more of what made us feel good. With substances like opiates, excessive amounts of dopamine is released – far more than what is released during a natural behavior that causes pleasure (such as eating or exercise). This flood of dopamine causes the brain to completely rewire itself. After lengthy and repeated use, the brain may not produce dopamine naturally anymore and requires more and more of the substance to produce it.
So before you go judging a heroin user for their addiction, take a very good look at yourself and consider what your addiction may be. If you cannot display empathy for an addict or their family, keep your thoughts to yourself. Like I said, I love where I live and that love helps me continue to advocate for those who need our support.
If you or anyone you know is struggling with an addiction or mental health disorder, there is help readily available 24/7.
Local resources include:
Third Level Crisis Center 231-922-4800 – Available 24/7. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also use their text line: 231-480-0292
Catholic Human Services (Mental Health and Addiction) 231-947-8110
Munson Behavioral Health (Mental Health and Addiction) 231-935-6382
Northern Lakes Community Mental Health (Mental Health and Addiction) 231-922-4850
And of course, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255