Over 20-million Americans are actively involved in abusing alcohol or illegal drugs. They are engaged in a futile race for chemical equilibrium in the neural synapses of certain areas of their brains. They are engaged in a losing effort to drink or drug their way out of depression or anxiety. Broken families, domestic violence, lost careers, auto accidents, murder and suicide constitute some of the fallout from this disaster. Prisons and jails are chock full of individuals who have committed crimes under the influence.
In a broad sense, alcoholism and the use of illegal street drugs such as heroin, marijuana or cocaine represent a maladaptive attempt to achieve the highs produced by enhanced brain levels of serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine and endorphins. We know that alcohol and some street drugs very temporarily increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. We know that the elevation is temporary, and that when it wears off the addict will want to do again the substance that caused the high. Essentially, that is the nature of addictions and substance abuse.
If substance abuse only affected the users it would still be a tragedy of major proportions. But, sadly, it impacts millions more family members and friends. Virtually every family or person in this country has been touched by alcoholism, drug abuse or some other addiction such as gambling or over-eating. The 300-lb woman grazing at the all-you-can eat buffet is just as surely addicted as the average crack cocaine addict, and her health will eventually impact the lives of all those around her.
In August, 1998, I lost a very good friend to alcoholism. He was 56-years old and died alone as the result of a fall down his basement stairs. I am certain that he did not have one waking sober moment in the last few months of his life.
He was a good man in many ways. He was kind and compassionate to the downtrodden, and he had a wry sense of humor. He was a superb athlete: wrestler, weight-lifter and softball player. At one time he had a very good job in the field of community mental health. However, he lost it due to his drinking, and less than five months later he was dead.
Over the years, myself and others talked to him about getting help, but his denial and his resistance was as thick as his Swedish skull. That is what defines an addiction -- you cant stop on your own, you dont want to stop, and you resist efforts to make you stop. Some people reach help when they finally hit bottom, but for some that bottom is death.
Most every family has had a parent, grandparent, uncle or cousin who was impaired by alcoholism. Their antics were the stuff of family legends. At times they may have been funny and entertaining, but more often than not, they were angry and brutish. The alcohol anesthetized the thinking part of their brains, the frontal lobes, and allowed the uninhibited expression of raw emotional sewage from the old part of the human brain, the reptilian brain. It is unfortunate that they could not acknowledge that they were depressed or fearful. It is too bad because addictions yield to treatment fairly well in those individuals who truly want and seek help. Counseling, medication and 12-step self-help programs such as AA are readily available.
Even though recovering from an addiction may involve several relapses, studies show that those who keep trying eventually succeed. The first 12-step program, Alcoholics Anonymous , is the world's largest fellowship and since the mid-1930s has helped millions overcome their addiction. Most all other self-help groups are modeled on AA.
The 12-step model has been applied to dozens of other addictions, and has helped people with drugs, food, sex, anger, nicotine, gambling, shopping and codependent relationships to name a few. In most cases it is the most effective and least expensive form of help, and while not a specifically Christian approach, it does allow God or one's "higher power" to be integral in the healing process. AA is also ubiquitous -- virtually every city, town and hamlet has a chapter with multiple meetings per week. A list of local AA meetings can be obtained by calling (212) 870-3400 or on the internet at: www.AA.org.
Addiction to whatever substance, person, process or emotion serves the purpose of delaying the pain and emptiness of depression. It is a more or less futile attempt to feel filled up, satiated, whole and complete.
My impresssion is that sexual addiction, and its step-child pornography, is a problem in our society that rivals alcohol and drugs in its negative impact. It is difficult to measuer the number of wrecked marriages, abortions, fatherless children and sexually transmitted disease that come as the result of sexual addiction. one only need to turn on the television for an hour or two to realize what a sexually preoccupied society we have become. Scantily clad starlets, sexual innuendo and extra-marital relationships are the staple of network television. A cynic might answer that mankind has always ben sexually preoccupied. Its difficult to argue that point. However, its also clear that since 1950s and 60s authority figures in our universities and the media have been indoctrinating us with a badly skewed morality. Its a morality that says that anything that feels good is okay to do, as long as it doesn't obviously harm others. Our generation has seen the official removal of religious and societal injunctions restraining adultery and other uninhibited expressions of sexuality.
The most numerous and persistently ubiquitous websites on the internet are those having to do with pornography. These websites now number in the millions and pop up in ways so insidious that children are often inadvertently exposed to them. Web searchs on the most innocent sounding topics can end up at pornographic sites. Of course, the First Amendment and the Supreme Court say that everything except child pornography is permissible.
Many men in our socierty are sexually preoccupied and are thus prone to a porn addiction. Their hunger can be fueled with a few clicks of the mouse; it requires no effort and little courage. It is not as potentially embarassing or time consuming as going to a XXX-rated film or a pornagraphic bookstore. It is almost as easy as it once was to light up a cigarette, and the media bombardment of provocative imagery feeeds the addiction and makes abstinece and recovery very difficult.
Believe it or not there is an addiction perhaps even more widespread, persistent and destructive than alcohol, food, drugs or sex. Perhaps as much as all of them combined. Can you guess what it might be? This was going to be a longer article, but I will cut it short at this point. I need to phone my stockbroker, and then scoot over to the 7-11 and get my Lotto ticket. Anyway, check out 1 Timothy 6:10.
Keep in mind that addiction of any sort either coexists with, or masks the effect of depression, and that the same neurotransmitter deficiency likely underlies both problems. In my estimation addictions are just another face of depression.