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 and work to manage those symptoms. What they should be doing is addressing the actual problem: the addiction.
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 addiction. Sure, these are risk factors; however, they don’t in 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 illness of the spirit.
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. This is why it’s common for alcoholics and addicts to avoid having even one drop of alcohol.
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. Think of it as an obsession which takes control over 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.
What can one do to defend himself against this illness of the mind? They should be in, as Alcoholics Anonymous describes it, “a 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 sickness-induced thinking with sickness-induced 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.
A Cure for Addiction?
The co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill Wilson, addresses the theory that one can cure themselves of alcoholism. “We are not cured of the disease; all we have is a daily reprieve based on the maintenance of a fit spiritual condition.” This notion can be applied to addiction in general. Addicts earn recovery through appropriate actions. These actions can be regularly attending meetings, seeking sponsorship, helping others, and more. One needs to truly surrender to AA or the addiction recovery program they best identify with 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.”
Addiction can indeed be cunning, baffling and powerful. However, by understanding the reasons behind the illness as well as common pitfalls which inhibit recovery, it can be mitigated.
Have you experienced addiction? Have you noticed an illness of the body, mind and spirit? Share your questions, advice and comments below.If
Andrew Waters is a native of Toronto and currently resides with his wife and two children in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. He is a licensed addiction counselor working at the world-renowned Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation: Addiction Treatment Center with adolescents and young adults. As a graduate of the Hazelden Graduate School of Addiction Studies, Andrew is passionate about sharing his knowledge and helping people understand the science of addiction. He looks forward to using his skills to help people on the journey to recovery. Andrew can be reached at [email protected].
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