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Understanding Addicition (Part 1)

Addiction is a widespread, chronic condition that may have very serious emotional, physical, social, financial, and legal implications. It afflicts the life of the addict in all its aspects, leading to a wide range of consequences, and frequently ends up with loss of functioning or even death. Such consequences often extend to include the addict’s family as well as the whole community. Every year, millions of lives and billions of dollars are lost all over the world because of the consequences of addiction.

Nevertheless, the most significant loss is spiritual. When addicts engage in self-destructive and antisocial behaviors, losing control over their habits, they violate God’s laws of creation and love. God created everything clean and holy. Addiction, however, means the abuse of what God originally has designed to be used for man’s well-being. This could be a substance, like alcohol or other drugs, or money, or some act, like eating, sex, shopping, or even working. Continuous abuse of such substances or acts may turn into a chain of negative consequences. Over the time, abusers, or addicts, may fail to stop their addiction behaviors despite those consequences.

In Christ, the New Man, we all should lead a life of freedom from the bonds of destructive habits. He already has purchased our bodies, our minds, our time, and all what we may own to become temples for the Holy Spirit or tools to glorify Him.

What Causes Addiction?

Addiction, especially in its clinical forms, while might be predisposed by some genetic factors, mostly happens to persons who have been exposed to some traumatic experiences, or who have lacked structure in their earlier stages of development. Therefore, these persons, over the time, become more vulnerable for addiction. Once they have access to an addictive substance, or an opportunity to do an addictive action, they may experience very strong pleasurable feelings that entice them into repeating the same behavior. As an example, let us assume that we have two different individuals, “A” and “B”. Both have to undergo identical surgical procedures, suffer more or less the same sort of pain, and receive the same potentially addictive medication for pain control. One of them, “A”, would recover and leave the hospital without any further need for the drug. The second individual, “B”, on the other hand, may experience very intense feelings and mood changes immediately after using the same painkiller. Consequently, “B” may end up becoming an addict that, without treatment, would depend on the drug the rest of his/her life. It is very likely that “B” has carried some genetic traits and was exposed to some traumatic experiences or was raised in a dysfunctional family system, or both. The same example of drug and alcohol abuse would apply to some potentially addictive actions, like gambling, shopping, sex, or eating. Doing the action may give the same vulnerable individual, “B”, the same pleasurable feelings. Over the time, however, such individual may lose control and will power over the habit to become dependent on it.

What Makes Addiction Dangerous?

Physically, more than five hundred thousands die in the United States alone every year from nicotine addiction, alcoholism, and other drug abuse. Death may happen due to related illnesses, like cancer and liver or heart disease, or related accidents or violence. Alcohol and drug abusers are also very vulnerable to suffer from brain damage after prolonged or heavy usage, especially when they have started their habits at a young age. Underage drinking is known as a contributing factor to serious mental and neurological problems in many cases.

On the emotional side, addicts are more likely to suffer from chronic depression. A vicious cycle may result when they helplessly get more indulged into medicating themselves to feel better. On the other hand, depression carries its own dangers and negative impact on the addict’s life as well as the addict’s family members. At its most serious picture, depression, if untreated, may lead to suicidal ideation and attempts. Because of the self-destructive nature of addictive behaviors, suicidal rates are higher among addicts than non-addicts.

Socially, addiction leads to a wide variety of problems and complications. Parents, siblings, spouses and children of addicts deeply suffer while struggling to adjust their own lives and to deal with their negative feelings. Children of addicts, for instance, often find it very hard to manage with their own guilt, shame and low self-esteem as a result of their parents’ abusive behavior or because they were neglected as children during their early years of development. They may find themselves victims of many sorts of emotional, physical or sexual abuse in their own families. A condition called co-dependence may develop within the addict’s family: The family members erratically modify their own lives to minimize the damages, usually through covering up the problem by keeping it as a family secret, becoming passive about it, or by enabling the addicted member rather than proactively helping him/her make a change or seek treatment.

Such dysfunctional family life resulting from addiction, particularly substance abuse as well as compulsive gambling and compulsive sexual behaviors, may end up with family disruptions because of separation or divorce, and a heavy price to be paid by all parties, especially by the children. Domestic violence can also be a direct or indirect end result of addictive behaviors within families.

The financial cost of addiction is very high too. To support their habits, addicts may go all the way, sacrificing anything they might have access to. They frequently lose their credibility in financial institutions because of their bad credit history. Huge financial losses eventually may result into homelessness, bankruptcy, or crime.

Posted by Fr. Moses Samaan

January 14, 2009