#059 I Want to Help People Break the Chains of Addiction and Abuse

Associate Professor MORITA Nobuaki, Faculty of Medicine

Addiction to gambling, drugs and alcohol is a growing social problem. We are frequently surprised to hear about celebrities falling into such patterns, and it is difficult for us to understand why. Addictions are often referred to as moral issues, but they are diseases which need to be treated. They are often linked to verbal and physical abuse. Prof. Morita is researching the psychosocial causes and background of addictions and based on this, he is developing and implementing treatment methodologies.

Alcohol addiction and acute alcohol poisoning are different. The problem with addiction is that one is not able to give something up, not able to stop. According to Prof. Morita, both psychological and social elements underlie this phenomenon. Certain endorphins within the brain are activated when one takes alcohol and certain types of drugs. This experience of having one's psychological deficits buried triggers a vicious circle. Experts in this field say that these substances are ingested as self-medication. However, the effects of this are not limited to the person taking the substances, as people close to that person are inevitably affected. Addictions can lead to violence, and when families try to suppress the problem, as often happens, they can inadvertently help to sustain the addiction.

Gambling addictions among sportspeople have recently come to light. A thirst for sensation is common among sportspeople and people who attempt feats of superhuman endurance. Another aspect of this is that to challenge social morals is stimulating in itself. However, people fall into a vicious circle when they try to recoup gambling losses. By lending money and suppressing scandal, close friends and family members create the impression that they approve of this behavior, which only exacerbates the problem.

It is said that one factor causing this increase in addiction is that it is seen by society as a moral issue. Even if an addict is asked to stop for his own good, he is not able to stop, however guilty he may feel about the behavior. Furthermore, the addict will then lie to himself and to others and deny that there is a problem. It was in the 1970s and 1980s that addiction began to be recognized as a disease and not a character or moral problem. For treatment to work, it is essential that the addict and relatives be aware of the nature of the problem.

Prof. Morita began research and treatment of drug addiction while he was a newly qualified psychiatrist working in a hospital. He helped out at a drug addiction treatment center launched by senior staff, and was then obliged to take on many of their responsibilities when they were transferred on to other facilities. This was a tough process, but observing the changes in recovering patients made it worthwhile. Eventually, Prof. Morita noticed cases of addiction which were part of an intergenerational chain. He also noticed that domestic violence (control through violence within a family) can be passed on through the generations, and that this violence is often a by-product of substance addiction. It is well known that children of parents with drug or alcohol addictions may go on to be addicts themselves. A similar intergenerational chain of violence and abuse is also recognized. Becoming a perpetrator gives the victim comfort, and this can often develop into an addiction.

Abuse is not necessarily violent. The abuser may set petty rules to control the abused (always make three different dishes for dinner, never buy ready-made food, etc.), may put strict controls on housekeeping money, and some go so far as to look for mistakes made by the abused, which they then pursue in a cold and level-headed manner. Apologies have no effect, or they can even escalate the situation, which is why victims of domestic violence often blame themselves. When a teacher uses corporal punishment, it is an addiction to violence as a rapid measure for solving a problem in order to assert the teacher's authority.

Treatment for all types of addiction, be it drugs, alcohol or domestic violence, begins with an interview to tease out the self-awareness of the patient. The next stage is psychotherapy and/or self-help groups in which ex-patients (peers) are involved. There is a program designed to help perpetrators of domestic violence communicate with their partners. Prof. Morita has also designed a treatment program for people convicted of drug abuse. He was asked by the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education to design a training program for teachers to help them avoid corporal punishment. The fact that addiction treatment is centered around certain specialist hospitals means that few medical students are able to see actual treatment for themselves, which leads to reduced interest in this field. Prof. Morita is very passionate about disseminating the importance of human care to society as a whole, not only medical students, particularly the value of observing the recovery of people suffering from addiction.

Article by Science Communicator at the Office of Public Relations

Prof. Morita is also involved in child abuse prevention and early intervention systems.

Related link: Creating a Safe and Secure Living Environment in the Changing Public and Private Spheres, Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST)

Celebrating the 151st 50th Anniversary of the University of Tsukuba
Celebrating the 151st 50th Anniversary of the University of Tsukuba