Monday, October 22, 2012
With behavioral addictions on the rise, SMU upgrades campus mental health resources
SMU has launched heath initiatives to increase services for addictive behavior that goes beyond traditional drug and alcohol problems.
University Park ABC News cited a report from Women’s Health magazine that deals with the dangers of behavioral addictions. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, today “more people than ever” are addicted to prescription painkillers and over 23 million Americans are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
Behavioral addictions, however, are dangerous and “sneakier” than substance addictions because they are more difficult to measure. Additionally, doctors specializing in addiction failed to recognize behavioral addictions as “legitimate” for many years.
The commonly accepted distinction between habit and dependency is that an addiction is “continued compulsive use of a mind-altering substance or behavior with negative life consequences.” Essentially, if one is unable to quit a behavior despite the harm it causes that person or others, he or she likely has an addiction.
One of the key issues with behavioral addictions today is that it is difficult for people to determine if their behaviors are dangerous when “everybody everywhere seems to be addicted to something.”
The words “obsess” and “addict” are more often than not thrown around in casual conversation because they do not have the same level of severity as they once had. An example of this is Twitter, where one may search the hashtag #addict to “discover a world of cravings, real and exaggerated.”
Hollywood and the entertainment industry are also contributing to this evolution, with more celebrities opening up about needing rehabilitation.
A celebrity rehabilitation series and even an upcoming comedy about sex addicts highlight a 12-step recovery program.
Anna David, executive editor of The Fix, a website dedicated to addiction and recovery, supports this notion.
“We’re living in a time when addiction can be said without shame,” David said. On the positive side, this increased acceptance may allow struggling addicts to seek help with less fear of being judged.
On the other hand, the now nonchalant and oddly “glamorized” nature of addiction may be dangerous because it is more difficult for addicts to recognize that their issue is an issue, especially before it is too late.
“It’s hard to fathom, but many nonsubstance addictions affect the brain in almost exactly the same way as a drug or alcohol dependency,” David Shurtleff, acting deputy director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said.
MRI scans show that snorting cocaine and scarfing down a burger light up the same pleasure center in the brain.
In terms of dealing with these addictions, Johanna O’Flaherty, a vice president at the Betty Ford Center, argues that analyzing gender is the most significant insight into addiction mechanics.
Research shows that males and females become addicted to different substances and behaviors for different reasons and recover differently.
As far as substance addictions, nearly twice as many men than women are chemically dependent on drugs or alcohol. Though for behavioral addictions, women may be at a higher-risk for “mall disorders,” such as “shopping, binge eating and stealing.”
However, more women today are becoming addicted to once traditionally male addictions, such as “sex, pornography and gambling.”
As a result of understanding the differences between the way addictions affect men and women, experts are realizing that treatments could be more effective if approached in a more gender-specific way. Many addiction centers are “designing specialized, single-sex support groups.” Neuroscientist Jill Becker of the University of Michigan is currently searching for “gender-specific fixes” for treating addictions.
The rise of behavioral addictions is a growing problem at SMU as well.
“I think people often overlook the fact that a lot of things can be classified as an addiction,” sophomore and pre-med Mehdi Hami, said. “It’s crucial that we address problems that can arise from shopping or eating or whatever it is.”
“These problems can be overlooked by those in the medical and healthcare community, but they are critically important to the overall welfare of our SMU community.”
SMU’s Center for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention is located on the second floor of the Memorial Health Center.
While the center focuses on alcohol and drug abuse prevention, it can also help with behavioral addictions.
Recently, the center launched a program that will allow students to confidentially speak with trained professionals about health and social problems that they are facing.
The center also recently offered a program, in conjunction with SPECTRUM and AIDS ARMS, to offer free HIV testing for SMU students.
SMU’s Memorial Health Center aims to be a confidential source of help for students dealing with abuse or addiction issues.
The center received a $5 million gift from the Dr. Bob and Jean Smith Foundation last year to facilitate renovations.
Patrick Hite, the director of the center, believes that the new health center will have a large impact for SMU’s reputation as a quality institution, as reported by The Daily Campus last semester.
President Turner, in a statement last year, also echoed Hite’s confidence in the ability of the health center to tackle problems.
“This new gift will dramatically improve campus health care resources and provide support services that enable students to do their best academic work and fully enjoy the campus experience,” he said.
“This gift will transform an important but outmoded facility into an up-to-date campus resource.”
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