WHAT IS IT THAT DRIVES ADDICTION?
There are so many questions (and misconceptions) that people have about addiction. The purpose of our ministry is to help the families of addicts understand addiction so they will be better equipped to help find solutions for active addiction as well as helping their loved ones maintain sobriety. In order to do that, it is important to understand what fuels the need to use. In this blog post, I will attempt to do that.
WE MUST REMOVE MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT ADDICTION
A friend of mine sent me a video the other day. In this video, a guy was talking to his friend that was leaving the hospital. The friend was telling him he had a disease called addiction. The guy began to berate him, telling him he didn’t have a disease. He was just weak and pathetic using a crutch called drugs so he didn’t have to deal with life. He said a real disease was a kid with cancer and blah blah blah. The problem is that the guy doing the berating is wrong. It is not as simple as a disease or a choice. I wrote a blog for The Home of Grace about this question. I won’t re-articulate that article in this post, but if you want to read it you can do so here: is addiction a disease or a choice?
For the purposes of this post, I’d like to focus on the family’s approach to dealing with an addict. You must understand that an addict is caught in a cycle of shame and regret. You cannot break that cycle by berating them for the situation they are in. You will only fuel the cycle. Understanding what is fueling their addiction and helping to remove that fuel, is the key to combating addiction and sustaining sobriety.
NO ADDICT CHOSE ADDICTION.
As I’ve said countless times before, nobody ever chose to ruin their lives through addiction. It doesn’t matter if they voluntarily tried drugs at a party for the first time or they were hooked under a doctor’s care. They didn’t set out to destroy their lives (and negatively impact everyone around them), any more than the adult (as a teenager) who tries cigarettes chose lung cancer, or the kid who loves sugary snacks chose the diabetes that has crippled him as an adult. No. There was a ticking time bomb inside the addict that was armed at some point, early in their using. There was a predisposition that was activated. The same can be said for some people who smoke their entire lives and never get cancer, yet some people smoke for a few years and do get cancer. The scientific community would chalk it up to genetics (which certainly plays a role) but i will tie it to spiritual brokenness. At the end of the day, the outcome was never chosen, even though the chosen actions ultimately led to the outcome
SPIRITUAL BROKENNESS IS THE ROOT CAUSE OF ADDICTION (AND SO MUCH MORE)
We are all broken people. That brokenness causes emotional pain. We were intended to have a relationship with God, through Jesus Christ, to cure that pain. Until we have a relationship with Christ that pain will drive us to seek a remedy, just like physical pain will drive us to seek relief. The hurt we feel emotionally causes pain. Using various substances causes us to not feel that pain (at least to the same degree we normally feel it). Our subconscious drives us to continue seeking that substance so we can keep the pain at bay. Thus, an addiction is born. As we take the substance we build a tolerance which causes us to need more and more of the substance to accomplish the same level of relief.
THUS, AN ADDICTION IS BORN.
THE TRICKY PART TO UNDERSTANDING ADDICTION
Everything we’ve discussed so far is relatively elementary. The majority of people understand the basic principles I’ve discussed so far. Here’s where it gets more difficult. The addict is basically in survival mode. Using substances (keeping the pain at bay) has taken priority over everything. The midbrain is running the show. This is the part of the brain that controls instinctive behavior. Are choices made during these actions? Yes. But these choices are split-second, reactive, spur of the moment decisions. They are not carefully weighed, consequences considered choices. We survive in the moment and deal with the consequences after we’ve acquired what we need to survive. You can disagree with the “what we need to survive” part if you want, but that is what the brain thinks. That is what is driving the addiction. The bible talks about this deception:
JEREMIAH 17:9 “THE HUMAN HEART IS THE MOST DECEITFUL OF ALL THINGS, AND DESPERATELY WICKED. WHO REALLY KNOWS HOW BAD IT IS?
You may ask why I’m quoting a scripture about the heart when i was just talking about the brain. Well, I’m glad you asked. The Bible uses the word “heart,” which refers to the center of the being. Here is the Hebrew understanding of the “heart.”
לֵב lêb, labe; a form of H3824; the heart; also used (figuratively) very widely for the feelings, the will and even the intellect; likewise for the centre of anything:
So what the verse is saying is that the part of us that makes decisions, that drives us to do what we do (our feelings) is deceitful. It drives us to do whatever meets its selfish needs. This is what causes us as addicts to prioritize using above everything else. We have been deceived by our own brains that we need to continue using to survive. The logical, rational decision making part of the brain is completely taken out of the loop. It no longer gets to make decisions. All decisions are made by the survival part of the brain. This is the part, driven by feelings, that is so deceptive. This is why when an addict gets high, in the time immediately following their using, most of us feel remorse for the things we do. We wish we weren’t the way we are. We may even agree that we need help and that we’re willing to go to treatment during this time. But as the high fades, we begin to feel shame, regret, unworthiness, and all of the other negative feelings associated with using. Our midbrain takes back over. It decides these feelings hurt too much, and that we need to use to numb the pain once again.
THIS IS WHY WE NEED TREATMENT
We need a break from the cycle. We also need counseling to help us identify and deal with past experiences that cause us so much pain. We need tools to help us cope with these feelings and situations that do not involve substances. But we need more. We need to recognize the patterns involved with using. We need to understand that the deceitful part of the brain is still there. It doesn’t want to do all of this uncomfortable healing. It doesn’t want to feel. If it can’t have drugs and alcohol, it will act out in other ways. It may use food, sex, work, money, or a host of other things. Meanwhile, the destructive pattern will continue hurting those we love. Until we learn new ways, the brain will continue to try the old ways it already knows are effective.
IF WE COULD NOT TRUST OUR FEELINGS BEFORE REHAB, WE CANNOT TRUST OUR FEELINGS AFTER REHAB.
We have to learn to consider our feelings, but to make rational choices with the decision-making part of our brain. Our feelings are useful, but they should not be in control. We have to learn healthier ways to deal with anger, disappointment, sadness, even happiness, excitement, and expectation. We have to deal with these things in a manner that keep emotions in an advisory role only, and never in command.
SO WHAT CAN WE DO?
Again, I would recommend counseling to help equip us with tools to deal with our emotions. Certainly, I would advise, that beyond a shadow of a doubt, we have to walk in submission to Christ. If we allow Him to show us how to live, and we walk in submission to that, then our emotions cannot be in control. That does not mean we won’t have feelings, both good and bad. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have instincts that encourage us towards action. What it does is to remind us that we are not (or should not be) in control. It allows us to be guided by somebody much wiser and better equipped to make good choices, than ourselves. We also need accountability. Addiction loves isolation. Isolation requires us to make the best choice we can make by ourselves. We’ve already seen how that turns out. If we remain accountable to others around us, they can warn us when they see us heading towards dangerous circumstances.
Understanding the things that drive addicts, and fuel addiction, you will be better prepared to help the addict you love, both before, and after treatment.
We continue to pray for you all, and the addicts you love. God Bless you.