Emily Rice Published

Experts Say Understanding Terminology Of Addiction Helps Treat The Disease

Two people's hands are show gesturing as they have a conversation.
Appalachia Health News Reporter, Emily Rice sat down with Susan Mullens, West Virginia Collegiate Recovery Network project coordinator to discuss terminology.
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The drug epidemic is an ever-evolving hot-button topic with tons of buzzwords. But what does it all mean? Appalachia Health News Reporter, Emily Rice sat down with Susan Mullens, West Virginia Collegiate Recovery Network project coordinator to discuss terminology.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Rice: What is the difference between addiction and dependence?

Mullens: Well, addiction is more of a common everyday term that really is its everyday language for substance use disorder. So, substance use disorder is the official name in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. And you know, so we just we throw around the word or use the word in common conversation, addiction. Dependence can mean different things.

Rice: When it comes to dependence, people who are quite literally prescribed something by their doctor can be dependent on it. When does that transfer over into addiction?

Mullens: Well, again, addiction is not a diagnosis. And so it’s, that’s not really an accurate progression of the disease, or a great way to describe it, because people talk about being addicted to a lot of things. But you know, do they meet clinical criteria for a diagnosis, is really the question?

Rice: When we’re talking about how the brain works, and once a person is diagnosed with substance use disorder, what changes?

Mullens: Part of it depends on the substance, part of it depends on how long the person has been using. A lot of times, individuals experience other traumas, there could also be undiagnosed traumatic brain injuries and other things. So it’s really an individualized situation. What we know is that the longer people are engaged in care, the better their long-term outcomes are.

Rice: We hear a lot of words around the drug epidemic conversation, could you explain in your own words, what harm reduction means?

Mullens: Harm reduction can mean a number of different things. And unfortunately, it’s gotten somewhat of a bad rap. And one size doesn’t fit all with regard to harm reduction either, but we do know that individuals who engage with harm reduction programs, formal type programs are five times more likely to enter treatment, and three times more likely to stop using substances. And really, the goal of harm reduction is to meet people where they are along that process because not everyone who uses substances wants to stop.

Rice: Yeah, it really does sound like each situation requires a different response. Is bringing that human element into care effective?

Mullens: Yeah, it’s definitely it’s not a cookie-cutter situation. Everyone has different needs. Everyone has different strengths. And everyone has different goals and aspirations. And you know, that’s what our programs try to do is to meet people where they are and not force, anything, any particular view or any particular pathway on to somebody because, you know, it’s, it’s, we all come with unique situations and need a customized recovery pathway.

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.