Addiction: Cunning, Baffling, and Powerful

Addiction is a disease that is known to be cunning, baffling, and powerful. With this reputation, one might think that addiction would be difficult to understand. In reality, it’s not terribly tricky. Sadly, though, misinformation can cause addicts to focus on the symptoms of their disease rather than the problem, over-reliance on self.

To be blunt, popular culprits for the cause of addiction such as bad grades, peer pressure, broken marriages, and other difficult situations are not the true source of utter powerlessness and unmanageability. Sure, these are risk factors for those pre-disposed to the illness; however, they don’t, in and of themselves, make people inject drugs. In fact, The National Institute on Drug Abuse has scientifically shown that addiction is a brain disease with genetic factors. Social situations or peer pressure are not nearly in the same class as these determinants.

Moving to a deeper comprehension of addiction, perhaps one of the best, if not the best, understanding of the affliction is found in the famed book Alcoholics Anonymous, the originator of the revered twelve step recovery program. The elements described in “The Big Book”, as the publication is popularly known, brilliantly articulates the ins and outs of addiction. The disease model describes addiction as having three parts: illness of the body, illness of the mind, and the spiritual malady.

Illness of The Body

Illness of the body is described as an allergy, an abnormal reaction to a common substance. For the alcoholic, this abnormal reaction is that once alcohol is ingested, one cannot predict when they will stop ingesting. This allergy is, by definition, the illness of the body, affecting the alcoholic only after he or she ingests the substance.

Many alcoholics in recovery try to stay away from any type of mood altering substances, such as avoiding cough syrups containing DXM or mouthwash with alcohol. The idea is to try to avoid triggering the allergy.

Illness of The Mind

This part of the disease essentially causes a person to lie to himself. It causes the addict to believe that he or she can use and enjoy substances safely and without fear of consequences. Think of it as an obsession which forces out all other thoughts. The addict will believe, “This time when I use, I will not experience negative consequences.” Or, ” Maybe it was the people I used with that caused my problems, not the drug.” This illness of the mind is often responsible for relapse. Before relapse, the addict lies to himself about the illness of the body and rationalizes using again.

What can one do to defend himself against this illness of the mind? They should be in, as Alcoholics Anonymous describes it, “fit spiritual condition.” When a recovering addict is engaged in growth and follows spiritual principles, the obsession is lifted. However, once he or she lets up, they can easily become susceptible to believing the lie once again.

Illness of The Spirit

Illness of the spirit is over-reliance on one’s self. One cannot solve sick thinking with sick thinking. The disease of the spirit can also refer to the proverbial hole in the soul, or feeling of emptiness that one tries to fill with drugs and alcohol. Attempting to fill this hole with those substances is akin to trying to fill a crater with peanuts.

I once heard someone say, “My life is unmanageable only when I try and manage it.” I believe this is a great way to conceptualize the illness of the spirit. When one follows spiritual directions rather than his own, that person can achieve change.

Free Will

Our greatest gift can become our greatest liability. The idea being, that following “self-directions” has led us to feelings of being, “restless, irritable, and discontented.” Aligning our free will with “spiritual directions” leads to feeling “happy, joyous and free.” One can quickly know how they’re doing with their free will. They get this information through being watchful of sustainable versus unsustainable emotions, as just mentioned.

Many addicts are not attuned to their spiritual needs. I like to compare it to physical hunger. People don’t typically starve. They tend to eat when hungry. They don’t typically say, “I ate breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday, therefore, I don’t need to eat today.” The addict, however, will say, “I went to a meeting, prayed and meditated yesterday, therefore, I think I will take a break today.”

How about a solution?

The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, writes, “We are not cured of the alcoholism. What we have is a daily reprieve contingent on the maintenance of our spiritual condition.”  This notion can be applied to addiction in general. Addicts earn recovery through appropriate actions. There is a popular quote in 12-step fellowships that suggests action, “One can not think themselves into good acting. They can only act themselves into good thinking.” These actions can include: regularly attending meetings, seeking sponsorship, helping others, prayer, meditation and more. One needs to truly surrender/accept responsibility for their recovery in order to be successful.

I think a great explanation of how this is done was said by one recovering person’s understanding of surrender: “Surrender is a state of being. It is giving up the hope that anything could have ever been different. It is a state of acceptance. It is a state of realization that addiction is a lifelong disease that can never be cured. It is a state of recognition that my life is fully dependent on adherence to spiritual principles and without them, I will die. It is knowing that nothing in this world is free, if I lie, cheat, steal, or cause any harm, eventually I will receive the bill. I can never know the value or cost of any specific act that will increase or deplete my reserve. Therefore, I will take every necessary action to ensure my success by contributing to my reservoir of spiritual currency. Recovery is not a game of manipulation, there is no easier, softer way. The solution is the hard way, by constantly improving and doing the work.”

Another insight into the solution…

If you want to get the job done right, the right tools need to be used. If one wants to do dental work with a hammer and chisel, they get bloody gums and broken bones. When addicts use their lives to seek pleasure and avoid pain, they typically get “restless, irritable, and discontented”. Conversely, when lives are used for growth, accomplishment and achieving potential, “happy, joyous and free” are achieved.

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Andrew Waters

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