Dr. Trip Gardner likens the struggle with addiction to driving a car and attempting to pump a set of broken brakes.
A person suffering from addiction is able to recognize the harm they’re causing themselves and those around them, but the choice to use isn’t their own, Gardner told a crowd of about 50 people Wednesday night at a Dirigo Speaks event sponsored by the Bangor Daily News.
“Even if the person is thinking, ‘I don’t want to do it,’ the choice can be made, but there’s no reaction. Hit the brake, it doesn’t work,” said Gardner, who serves as chief psychiatric officer and medical director of Homeless Health Services at Penobscot Community Health Care.
There’s a disconnect in the brain between reason and the need to fulfill an addiction, which can be akin to the sensation of starving to death, Gardner said.
“What would you do if we turned off the oxygen in here? We would do things against our values to get that thing we needed,” he said. “You’re just trying to survive. We’re not able to register the consequences in a way that allows us to stop.”
Gardner believes addiction is a brain disease in need of a medication-assisted treatment plan.