Whitney Houston. Josh Hamilton. The TCU football team. My goodness. Drugs and alcohol and their misuse are front and center in the news lately, as are opinions about those who partake. Speculation is that Houston died as a result of combining drugs and alcohol. Josh Hamilton ends up in a bar despite the fact it will cost him a millionaire’s career and maybe his family. Young, privileged kids with their whole lives in front of them inexplicably decide to dabble in a little behind-the-scenes pharmaceutical sales.
And the judgments are flowing. Two LA radio hosts were suspended for calling Houston a “crack ho.” The comments and call-ins about Hamilton and the college kids at TCU online and on radio sports shows are blistering. And I’m finding everyone’s smug outrage a smidge hypocritical. Because if I’ve learned anything from years in the mental health counseling biz, it is this: if you’re pointing a finger, there’s four more pointing back at you.
Be honest: Ever had a couple of drinks with dinner and driven afterwards? If not, next time you’re out, look around at the other tables and see how many people are. Or does your doctor give you a prescription for “mommy’s little helpers” (known in the suburban set as Xanax or Valium)? Or maybe you wait until the kids go to bed before you drink a bottle of wine…just because you can’t sleep?
Oh, America’s got a problem, all right. And it’s what I call a bio-psycho-socio-spiritual problem. How does addiction happen? Experts have isolated the root causes:
Biology. If you have a mother or father who was troubled by drugs and alcohol, you are four times more likely to develop a problem yourself…before you ever even pick up the substance. There’s a particular link between men and their sons. Addiction is a family disease. Funny thing, too: substance abuse isn’t the problem, folks. Substance abuse is a symptom of the problem. We use substances to solve our problems: something akin to using a shovel to hammer a nail in the wall. Might get the job done, sure, but there’s a lot of collateral damage.
Psychology. Depression, anxiety, other mood disorders: if you have a mental health issue, you are at increased risk of developing a dependence or abuse problem. There are personality traits that can precede misuse of drugs and alcohol too. Some people aren’t easily stimulated, or they’re risk takers. But instead of skydiving or bungee-jumping, however, these individuals say to themselves: let’s take ten tabs of acid and see what happens! Undiagnosed mental health problems can play a big role in why people medicate themselves.
Sociology. Nurture plays a big role in who develops an addiction problem as well as nature. Your race, your neighborhood, your socioeconomics all factor in. Were you bullied at school? Suffer physical, sexual, emotional abuse? Were you over-indulged? Neglected? All load the dice in favor of addiction.
Spiritual. In the end, addiction is really a spiritual sickness, a chronic emptiness, the ultimate isolation from God. It’s the hope that something outside of yourself, whether that be meth, booze, food, sex, or designer clothes can make you somehow better. People throw a lot of different things in a lot of different holes trying to fill up, never understanding everything they need to calm down and feel whole is already inside.
Have all of the above whammies or a combination thereof, and poor coping mechanisms are hard to avoid using if you’ve never been taught to self soothe in a healthy way. So, I don’t judge anyone who’s got a disease. Once you dump copious amounts of mood-altering substances on the brain, it’s chemical ability to experience pleasure is completely changed. After you’ve experienced these powerful but fake highs over and over, a good sandwich or winning a contest just doesn’t do it for the addict any more. After some time, it’s not about partying. It’s about getting out of bed.
And this is disease that is primarily defined by the symptom that people refuse to admit they have it. Addiction is a progressive and deadly condition, and there are only three outcomes to it without intervention: dead. Crazy. Or jailed. These ways are the only ways an substance dependence problem can end without treatment.
If you wonder if you have a problem, you have a problem. Alcoholics and Narcotics Anonymous are correlated with successful recovery, true, but please: get evaluated by a substance abuse counselor. Treatment and support are two different things, and you need them both. There are no shortcuts. But if you have cancer, you just don’t go to a support group and talk about it. Or tell the doctor, “No, I don’t think I’ll do chemotherapy. It’s too hard, and I don’t want to lose my hair.” If you don’t treat your diabetes, it’s still there. And it will blind you and take your feet before it kills you.
If you are related to someone who has a problem, there’s help for you at Al-Anon. Please go talk to other family and friends of addicts.Turning a blind eye, refusing to speak up enables your loved one to keep killing themselves. But in order to wage war against illicit substance dependence and abuse, we’ve got to get past the stigma and silence and shame that surrounds addiction. We need to drop the judgement. Because we’re in denial. And in recovery, that stands for “Don’t Even Know I Am Lying.”
TSB’s Momma Drama columnist, Eliska Counce, appears weekly.