The End of Addiction

Where does addiction end (lead)? How does it end? Before moving on, you may want to read my first two posts on addiction. The first post was The Morality of Addiction. The second post The Physiology and Psychology of Addiction.

Addiction often ends in depression, delusion, and death. As we discussed in The Physiology and Psychology of Addiction,  there are mental and physical consequences to drug abuse. One of them is depression. However, the depression diagnosis is often made in error. Can drug abuse and drug addiction lead to sadness, loss, and a sense of hopelessness? It can. Do these equate to clinical depression? Not necessarily. Often not at all. In 21st century American culture we tend to get sloppy with our speech and blur distinctions between our feelings in a given moment or stretch of time and bonafide conditions. For example, someone may say “Ow! I’ve got a migraine!” when all they have is a sinus headache. We’ve all heard those we know (and love) complain of the flu when they have a bad cold. People take antibiotics for viruses. It’s not that people aren’t feeling terrible. It’s just that they may overgeneralize, embellish, or exaggerate. The pain is real enough to them. They’ve simply confused feeling badly for something else and misapplied a label that may make treatment difficult.  Recent studies show an overdiagnosis of depression among all age groups. Something over 60% of those diagnosed with depression do not meet the criteria.

There is a pronounced tendency toward  overdiagnosis when it comes to depression. As a result, powerful medications are mis-prescribed, often compounding the problem and possibly the addiction. This phenomenon is not new. We are in an opiate crisis in part due to the over prescribing of powerful painkilling drugs. Much of this comes through sloppy diagnosis and prescription. Studies indicate the same is true of the diagnosis of depression. Again, studies show that a little over 60% of those diagnosed or labeled as depressive do not meet the criteria. There is a difference between a diagnosis of clinical depression and many less structured diagnoses of depression. Being sad, feeling hopeless, and lacking energy due to the punishment to which one subjects one’s body (and mind) doesn’t equate with depression. Many times, individuals (wanting acceptance, love, etc.) feel sad and turn to drugs for a high or to get acceptance from others. This is not mental illness (i.e. depression) this is poor choice making. It does not excuse either drug abuse or bad behavior. As we discussed in our first article, it’s a moral choice that often ends in addiction. Some argue they are the exception. Maybe so… but the exception proves the rule. Those arguing they are the exception, or their addict is the exception, prove the rule and often are looking for absolution of some kind. This kind of thinking brings us to delusion.

Addiction leads to delusion. There are two kinds of delusion. There is the delusion of the addict and there is the delusion of the enablers. Both are desperate and unfortunate, often deadly, behaviors. To review what we noted in the first article, the addict seeks to blame others for her choices. It seems to them that in the final analysis, “it’s not my fault.” Enables tend to affirm this self-deception for a variety of reasons we will not go into here. The behaviors described above, the “I have a migraine effect” are applied to the everyday headaches of life and the enablers are only too inclined to affirm this. Consequently, the normal pressures, pains, and disappointments of life are recalibrated and re-labeled as unbearable… driving the addict to do what they do. Sadness (or dissatisfaction) becomes depression, embarrassment becomes humiliation, disagreements become bullying, and they find good cause to purchase and abuse everything from alcohol to sniffing paint, to prescription drugs, and or, finally, illicit drugs. They have reason (or at least some excuse) to do what they do—at least in their minds and the minds of their enablers.

Along the way the addict’s enablers become delusional. Convinced of their addict’s exceptionalism, they begin deluding themselves. Enablers and addicts begin to rationalize and accept all kinds of excuses and behaviors. They engage in something like an historical and behavioral revisionism, rewriting the past often through some dystopian or utopian lens. Be careful. Attempting to convince them or persuade them to think or do differently often leads to anger, resentment, and can even result in your getting sucked into this maelstrom. You begin to think you can help him. You begin to delude yourself into believing you can rescue them. You’ve joined them in the quicksand. Or at least you are in danger of becoming just as stuck as they are. There’s only one Savior and you’re not Him. It’s confounding. It’s heartbreaking. Ultimately, both the addict and the enabler must hit rock bottom before either can be helped. Humanly speaking, there’s little to be done… but wait. Enablers can snap out of it just as the addict can snap out of his delusion. Either one or the other can run out of opportunities or resources… or time. This brings us closer to the end of addiction.

Addiction often leads to death. It’s an ugly and frightening progression. Your addict (and their enabler) can waste away like a cancer patient when all radiation and chemotherapy treatments have failed.  They age at an accelerated rate. Youth gives way to weariness… vitality to lethargy… attractiveness to decrepitness. A bright future devolves into a hopeless one (by choice). And yes, depression and mental illness may result from the self-abuse. More often than not they are symptomatic rather than causative. Addiction seldom comes through insanity but through willful, moral choice. Then there’s the debate, which came first… the addiction or the depression. While addiction is often blamed on depression, it is more often the case such diagnoses are anecdotal. Once again, the exception proves the rule.

How does death come? Death often comes through illness. Self-abuse has its consequences. Conditions develop ranging from cirrhosis of the liver (alcoholism and other drugs), AIDs or Hepatitis (promiscuity or sharing needles), fatality through accidents (DWI / OWI), death by violence (robbery or assault by others like them, or predators), or suicide. Often an addict will fake a suicide attempt to gain the attention she lost from enablers or to manipulate others. Make no mistake addicts have the means to take their own lives. In fact, their behavior is tantamount to slow motion suicide. Often though not always, an unsuccessful suicide attempt is both a cry for help and an attempt at manipulation. Many addicts serious about suicide simply choose overdose via their drug of choice and, at least in their minds, ‘drift off to sleep.’ They trust their drug of choice to make it painless.

It’s time for a little self-disclosure. There have been addicts of various stripes and ages in my family, mostly alcoholics. I suppose every family has them. None in my family have had a medical or psychiatric diagnosis of depression. They made choices. As a pastor and a counselor, I’ve had the occasion to work with a number of people from alcoholics to Meth addicts to Crack addicts, etc.  What’s my point? The point is that I’ve had not insignificant experience with addicts. I know addicts who ‘beat the addiction.’ All but two who ‘beat’ the addiction did so through a relationship with Jesus Christ. By a relationship with Jesus Christ, I don’t mean being a church-goer and or a churched person engaging in occasional “God talk” and then living as if God doesn’t exist. I’m not referring to those who pray but don’t listen to God through His word. I’m not talking about those who compartmentalize their lives, relegating God to one corner. And I’m not talking about those who “pray for stuff” or treat Him like a bellman at a hotel (“give me this and give me that”). Most addicts are very spiritual people, as are the enablers. When I refer to a relationship with Jesus Christ, I’m talking about a God-follower who has surrendered his will, his rights, his past, present, and his future to Christ. You know a tree, as Jesus said, by the fruit it bears. Even the devil and his demons believe in God (and shudder). Let’s be clear, I’m not talking part-time-job Christianity. That type of Christianity is the worst delusion of them all. Being all-in for Christ, as your God not your crutch is the better way. The addicts I know, who ‘made it’ gave themselves to Christ. As much as I respect A.A., a vague “higher power” of one’s own imagination sounds romantic but is mostly useless.

It is possible top beat addiction, humanly speaking without Christ. I know one addict who did it through sheer will-power. He was a self-described deist. What’s a deist? A deist believes God made the world, winding it up like a clock, and walked away—remaining a distant, if not a remote, and uninvolved observer. Essentially, a deist is a functional atheist. This deist did it by sheer determination. He made no excuses. He owned his behavior. He wanted to change. It also helped that he had a significant emotional event (S.E.E.). Coming out of a drug-induced haze he found himself on the floor of a men’s room in a bus station as a predator was about to molest him. Escaping, he asked himself the question, “Where will I be in a year from now?” He chose a different path. He asked his parents to commit him to a residential treatment program and cooperated every way he could. Did he struggle? Yes, he did. Did he make excuses? No, he did not. Did he suffer the physical and emotional agonies of withdrawal? Yes, he did. Did he succeed? He did. Beating the habit (just like acquiring the habit) is a matter of personal choice. One must choose wisely and not make excuses.

Where does addiction end? Ultimately, addiction ends in death. And this is not an ‘if’ question but a ‘when’ question. Drug abuse, in all its forms, tends to damage and devastate the body (and the mind).  The addict poisons herself to death. Drug addiction is a recipe for disaster. Having said this, someone once said to me, “Life is terminal.” That’s true. It is. However, addiction speeds up death and morbidity. There’s an old saying, from the Bible, “The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23a).” Secularized, this means destructive choices have deadly consequences.  And we are all going to die. The addict will die sooner than later.

Even addicts who ‘beat the habit’ typically die sooner. Their livers, kidneys, or other vital organs suffer additional (unnecessary) wear and tear. They may also succumb to dementia or Alzheimer’s because they did damage to their brains, resulting in ‘premature’ death. The end of addiction (the end of the road) also leads to incarceration or institutionalization or homelessness. We like to believe (and society seems inclined to believe) most homelessness is due to good people falling into bad situations beyond their control. This sentiment, no matter how well-intended, is just plain false. Granted there is a small percentage who are homeless through no fault of their own. But many are drug abusers. Many of those folks wandering the streets mumbling, acting odd, and begging are addicts who have no interest in receiving real help. That said, there’s always hope.

What should you hope for? You should hope for two things. The first thing you should hope for is the ability to exercise your own will and intellect, avoiding the trap of becoming an enabler. Hope the addict will hit rock bottom and hope they do so quickly. The sooner they do, the sooner they recover, if they recover. Sometimes, but not always, hitting rock bottom brings them a moment of clarity. I already mentioned my deist friend. That was his significant emotional event (S.E.E.).

Rehab fails because people enter before hitting rock bottom. They enter rehab. They hate the accountability. They want their freedom, never stopping to think they are enslaved already. They don’t like all the rules because their pride has not been sufficiently put to death by hitting rock bottom. They leave, escape; quit. That’s why the average success rate of rehab programs, regardless of size, trappings, and length of stay (in-patient or out-patient), hovers at  17 to 21%. If money, surroundings,  and price really mattered, why would all the celebrities one reads about (with all their wealth and connections) fail to beat the habit? It’s not so much the facility. It’s about the person and hitting rock bottom. Think about it. Wealthy celebrities can afford almost any facility. It’s not about price. It’s not about a desert breeze—it’s about hitting rock bottom and the death of pride. When pride dies, when they hit rock bottom, they come to their senses (at least for a while). Here’s a picture of what I’m talking about. It’s not a perfect fit. It’s found in the Gospel of Luke. It’s the story of the prodigal son or lost son (who hits rock bottom). Here’s the key excerpt:

 17 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father. (Luke 15:17-20)

Notice his mindset after he hit rock bottom. He ‘came to his senses.’ Notice how he now sees himself: “I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.” Now there’s hope. He’s ready to do whatever is necessary. This brings us back to our discussion of God.

The addict and god. Addicts tend to be very spiritual people. They tend to be faithful in their worship. The problem is that they worship an idol. Drugs are their gods. I have to admit, I’ve had my fill of “Christian Addicts.” You can’t worship God and the things of this world. No one can serve two masters. You will invariably love one and hate the Other. I didn’t say that. Jesus did. Jesus said God and money, or in the old King James Version, God and mammon. Do you really think Jesus would allow you to serve God and drugs just not God and money? What He’s doing, essentially, is restating the first and second commandments about having other gods before Him, or making something in your life an idol., Drugs are a substitute for God.

There’s a lot of confusion about spirituality and Christianity. In Alcoholics Anonymous there’s verbiage about a higher power that the drunk chooses to call god. I’m sure they are well intended but we don’t get to determine what or who God is, He does. Never mistake spirituality and idolatry for Christianity. Aztecs were spiritual and they sacrificed children on various altars to various gods. Addicts are spiritual and they sacrifice everything and everyone on the altar of their drug of choice.

One can’t worship two gods simultaneously. And if you are able to sacrifice your relationship with Jesus Christ, you never had a relationship with Him to begin with. The wages of sin (addiction) is death but the free gift of God is salvation through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). If you’re really ready for change, Jesus is willing to change you. But you have to trust Him. You can’t negotiate with God. He knows your thoughts from afar. He knows a word before it is on your tongue. He does not see as men see. He (really) looks at the heart. For the addict there’s always hope. Your choices have physical and emotional consequences, yes. Addiction never leaves a person the way it found them. Fortunately, neither does Jesus. You may still struggle with your addiction. All people after conversion still wrestle with sin. But your eternal home will be secure, and He will empower (rather than enable) you. He will empower you to do in the power of the Holy Spirit what you could not do on your own. He will slowly change you from the inside out. What you were once unwilling and unable to do He will give you an appetite to do. But don’t try and kid yourself (or Him). He’s not a politician seeking your vote, He’s a king seeking your total surrender. He accepts no substitutes. Neither should you.

Keith Crosby