Many patients have asked me to explain addiction and to tell them what they can do about it. This thing called, “Addiction/Chemical Dependency/Alcoholism” is, in my opinion, the most insidious disease in existence today.
Why do I combine all three as though they’re the same thing? Because they are the same thing! In other words, a drug, is a drug, is a drug! Make no mistake about it, alcohol is every bit as dangerous a drug as any illicit drug being sold on the streets. Alcohol just takes longer to kill it’s victim than street drugs! But, whether it’s alcohol, Methamphetamine, Crack, or Heroin . . . they all have the power to cause death when repeatedly abused. Addiction is a disease . . . it is a disease because the American Medical Association ranks it the third top killer disease in our country; third only to Heart Disease and Lung Cancer! To be ranked as a disease, an illness must include four components. These four components of the illness in question are that the illness must be:
- Primary: It must be an illness in and of itself. In other words, it cannot be an illness caused by some more serious illness (i.e. the headaches caused by a brain tumor).
- Progressive: It must continue to worsen on an ongoing basis regardless of the length of time the sufferer spends doing nothing that could worsen the illness (i.e. the cigarette smoker who stops smoking after being diagnosed with lung cancer).
- Chronic: Once the individual has it, it’s not going to go away! It is not curable . . . however, it is treatable and can go into remission! (Just like the diabetic who is able to lead a relatively normal life with insulin!)
- Fatal: The illness must have the capacity to result in death if not treated. Death can be caused either directly or indirectly from this disease. For example, some addicts die from Cirrhosis of the Liver while others may die from a car crash while intoxicated or high.
Something else that research has revealed is that unless this disease is treated, it will result in one of three things:
Tragically, countless addicts/alcoholics have experienced all three. How to avoid it? If there has been a parent or ancestor who experienced an addiction to any mood-altering substance (incuding, of course, alcohol) the only way to be certain that you can avoid it is to never imbibe, or use anything that is mood-altering . . . not ever! You see, although there is no cure, we do, at least now understand the cause!
The cause is three-fold. It is:
(each of the three exist in varying degrees in every addicted individual depending upon the details of their Bio-Psycho-Social History, which must be collected by an addiction professional).
I refer to this disease as “insidious” because three of the primary symptoms of addiction are denial, delusion and blame. These three symptoms succeed at forming the foundation for many other symptoms. Together, these symptoms create a nearly impenetrable wall of defenses. The defenses are the behaviors the addict/alcoholic uses to keep his or her loved ones from being able to reach the real person trapped inside these walls. It’s as if the addict/alcoholic is held hostage by their very drug of choice. Due to the denial of this disease, the addict is quite literally unable to see the destructive cycle in which he has been caught up.
From this stems the symptom of blame, i.e. when confronted with his self-destructive use of chemicals by anyone close to him, he instantly feels attacked. The logical (illogical) rationalization that results from feeling attacked is to blame the “attacker” for attacking him! Herein lies the addict’s delusion. In the addict’s mind, the only logical thing to do when “attacked” is to point the finger of blame. His chemicals render him blind to the truth. To the addict, this interpretation of reality, truly is his reality! The negative effect of his addiction leaves him helpless to view the happenings in his life any other way. His delusion prevents him from being able to see clearly. This, again, is his addiction doing his thinking and his talking for him, (i.e. the figurative description I used earlier of the real person being held hostage by his chemical of choice.
The symptoms of denial, delusion and blame most often require some type of intervention whereby the addict is diligently, yet repeatedly faced with the facts of the shambles his life has become. However, if this process is not handled in a manner that exercises the greatest amount of compassion, void of all blaming or shaming, it will fail miserably. There are many professionals throughout the country who are highly skilled at performing this delicate process of an “Intervention.” Most can be located by contacting any local chemical dependency treatment center in your area.