Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

August 19, 2017

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The beauty of recovery

Beyond the hell of addiction, a fresh world beckons

Mr. Hosseiny is a recent U of T Master of Science graduate. His principal field of study was the neuroscience of addiction. He has just completed a stint on the staff of Renascent, an abstinence-based treatment centre in Toronto, an experience that changed is attitude toward addiction.

Addiction is a brain disease. I know this. I know, for example, that the effect of cocaine originates in a region of the midbrain called the ventral tegmental area which extends to dopamine-rich regions like the nucleus accumbens, caudate nucleus and putamen, and specifically works by blocking the removal of dopamine from the synapse, which results in an accumulation of dopamine and causes that initial euphoria.

To take another example, I also know that alcohol increases the effects of the neurotransmitter GABA and inhibits the neurotransmitter glutamate, causing a physiological slowdown while at the same time increasing dopamine levels in the brain to give users that feeling of pleasure.

My education has taught me significant things about the role of addiction on the brain, and I am thankful for that, but it never taught me about the beauty of recovery. And let me tell you, it truly is a beautiful thing.

My education taught me that recovery is a lifelong battle because of the physiological changes to the brain. It also suggested that prolonged abstinence may allow brain activity to get back to a normal level of functioning, although never really completely. It also described what cues and contexts could trigger a relapse after abstinence. But this is more brain stuff.

The other side

Walking into Renascent on my first day was exciting and nerve-racking, despite the warm welcome I received. A couple of days went by and nothing out of the ordinary happened until one of my coworkers made a comment about a time he remembered anxiously sitting on the corner of Sherbourne and Dundas streets waiting for his dealer to come by. Given that Renascent is an accredited treatment centre, I found this a bit unusual — then he went on to tell me he has been sober for 18 years. I would have never known he was in recovery unless he mentioned it to me, because I never knew recovery could look that good.

One of the great things about Renascent is that many of the staff are in active recovery. I could line them all up and I promise you, you would not be able to tell. I could possibly have told you who was in active addiction, but I would not be able to tell you who was in active recovery.

That’s part of the beauty of recovery. You can’t tell the difference between someone who used to have an addiction problem (active recovery) and someone who has never had a problem with drugs. Second, recovering addicts are some of the hardest working people I have ever met. They’re brilliant and kind, dedicated and helpful, adjectives most people would not associate with someone who has had an addiction problem because of the stigma associated with this disease.

Our education system does a remarkable job teaching us about addiction and the brain, but it could do a better job teaching us about the beauty of recovery. If we better educate our students about recovery, it will equip them in the battle against stigma, help build awareness and remove barriers to people finding recovery. Addiction is a disease — point blank. You would not shame a diabetic for having an issue with sugar and we should not have a negative attitude towards people with an addiction problem.

Addiction is the disease, abstinence is the cure and recovery is the outcome. And it’s astonishingly beautiful.


Renascent has been a leader in abstinence-based drug and alcohol treatment in Toronto and the Durham Region since 1970. For more info: (866) 232-1212 or renascent.ca.

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.

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