Diabetes and Addiction: The Nature Of Chronic Illness
This article is not about people who have both diabetes and addiction. Rather, I would like to compare and contrast the two conditions. I chose diabetes as a comparison partly because it is often used in recovery literature and discussion. It has been said that addicts are in denial about their disease. They do not want to do the work it takes to get clean and stay clean. Twelve step meetings and step work are compared to diabetic medications. diabetics take there medicine to get better, why don’t addicts do the same?
The fact is that many diabetics are in denial about their disease as well.
diabetes mellitus, type II, the most common form of diabetes, is a disease that causes glucose to not get properly transferred into skeletal muscle cells. This transfer is facilitated by the hormone insulin. The muscle cells become resistant to insulin. It is like a key not fitting well into the lock anymore. Insulin is created in the pancreas. As the muscle cells become more resistant, the pancreas makes more insulin to compensate.
How is diabetes like addiction?
Both diseases occur in people who are predisposed. There are clearly people who are at risk for diabetes. It runs in families. There is a genetic risk. The same goes for addiction. Though many are at risk due to their genes, not everyone develops these chronic, lifelong diseases. It takes certain lifestyle choices for either disease to manifest. For diabetes, it is a lifelong lack of exercise and physical activity in combination with poor food choices. For addiction, it is the choice to use dangerous addicting drugs. Not everyone who sits on the couch eating fast food, chips and candy becomes diabetic. Not everyone who tries hard drugs becomes an addict. It takes a predisposition in combination with life choices.
In my experience as a family doctor, I have seen my share of diabetics in denial.
They still make poor food choices and avoid exercise. In fact, a very strict diet and a regular workout program can alone treat some diabetics without the need to use medication. The truth is that few make these lifestyle changes. It is hard work to change and give up the easy and pleasurable alternative of sitting around, eating junk food. It is always easiest to put off hard change for just one more day.
I once sat in on a lecture on a new diabetes drug.
It would help to make insulin work better on the muscle cells. The new drug treated diabetes at the core defect of the disease. It was an expensive drug and it had dangerous side effects. I asked the lecturer why not just have the patients exercise more. Healthy exercise has the same effect as this particular drug.
The answer was, “go ahead and try to get your patients to exercise.”
So, addicts who speak about diabetics as the saintly chronically ill who know they are sick and follow their treatment plan, should understand that this is not always the case in real life. Also, they should understand that a treatment plan that is ideal for one addict may not suit another. Some addicts do very well with recovery meetings and steps. Others will benefit from additional care from doctors. Private therapy from a licensed therapist can make a big difference. If you are an addict who is opioid dependent, there is prescription medication that can help you to not get sick and to not relapse again on deadly opioids.
In a perfect world, it would be great to tell diabetics to stick to their diet and exercise every day.
It works for a few, but it is not fair to expect everyone to make this major lifestyle change overnight. It would also be great to tell addicts to just put down the drugs and do an extensive written analysis of their character flaws with another recovering addict. Of course it would be ideal for addicts to change everything wrong with their lives that leads them back to drugs. In the real world, change is hard and takes time. During this time, medical treatment can help the addict to stay alive.
For those who do not suffer from a particular chronic disease, a little thoughtfulness, compassion and empathy is in order.
Imagine how hard it is for you to make changes in your life. Starting a new career, learning a new trade, going back to school, quitting a bad habit. Many things are easier said than done. Some people get started faster than others. Addiction is a real chronic illness like any other lifelong disease. It is hard work to make the needed lifestyle changes. To complicate matters, not everyone agrees with what works best.
If you are suffering from opioid dependence and addiction, you are dealing with a real and serious illness.
It is important to talk to a doctor who has experience in treating opioid dependence to discuss medical treatment options. If you live in Fort Lauderdale, Pompano Beach, Wilton Manors, Broward County or South Florida, consider calling Mark Leeds, D.O. Dr. Leeds is an osteopathic physician committed to helping people get treatment for opioid dependence. Call 954-776-6226 to schedule an appointment.