Understanding Addiction (part two)

Folks enjoy watching Intervention, Celebrity Rehab, and other TV shows that focus on addiction and forms of mental illness. We enjoy the guilty pleasure of seeing how others struggle because it’s a boost to our ego. We can watch the suffering of others and think, “Wow, my life is better than theirs.”

On the other side of the coin, we love to be inspired in 60 minutes or less. We enjoy The Biggest Loser, American Idol, Survivor, Hell’s Kitchen and a host of other shows in which people overcome adversity and achieve success. We want sexy stories that we also feel we can relate to. If you’re not an addict or close to someone who is, you’ll fail to recognize the incredible courage and resiliency involved in recovery from addiction.

We are a nation who loves Dr. Phil. It’s not important to us that he had his license as a psychologist revoked for gross violation of ethics. We fail to note that his approach is generally to shame the hell out of whoever he’s talking to and largely bully them. Shaming an addict or alcoholic is redundant (they are already neck deep in it) and is guaranteed not to work long term. It’s tempting to believe that all people need is a wakeup call.
It’s time to move beyond sound bite understandings of serious social problems. It’s time to stop taking drugs to address problems created by drugs. It’s time to recognize that Methadone causes far more enslavement than freedom. Passive approaches to the treatment of addiction Simply. Do. Not. Work. Recovery from addiction is best understood as an heroic process of clawing your way out of Hell.

Medicating mental, emotional, and spiritual pain facilitates destruction whether it’s with heroin or Xanax. It’s time to recognize that most people do NOT have “chemical imbalances.” They have crappy lives and that’s supposed to be depressing. Ultimately, suffering is motivation for recovery. When we protect addicts and alcoholics from self inflicted suffering we enable them and thus with the best of intentions, we rob them of motivation. I have found exactly two motivators for HUGE change and they are suffering and a Higher Power and my truth is that nothing else results in change of this magnitude.

Warren Boyd had the right idea. He knew firsthand the enslavement of addiction and what it takes to get and stay clean. Boyd was an “extreme interventionist” portrayed as William Banks in A& E’s short lived series, “The Cleaner.” Boyd went beyond the law but he knew the truth that recovery is only possible by embracing three powerful words – Whatever. It. Takes . The show took a good shot – it was honest but it couldn’t tell even a fraction of the story. Truth is, there’s nothing glamorous or sexy about addiction. It’s like watching a train wreck occur over and over.

Boyd went to any lengths to get people clean and sober despite understanding that the overwhelming majority would relapse and a significant percentage would die. He understood that in the midst of active addiction that the person did not perceive themselves as having a choice. What he did was more effective than any form of approved professional treatment. We have a conflict in this country between what is legal and what is ethical – between what actually works and what is “evidenced based”, between what is effective and what we wish worked.

Methadone is a lousy choice of legalized addiction. Suboxone is a decent choice but generally only in the short term. Abstinence is a good start. Recovery is the only long term healthy choice that leads to a fulfilling life. Recovery in my biased opinion is best handled by the experts of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. Recovery is not simply being clean and sober. It’s changing every major aspect of a person’s life in order to have holistic health, manageability, and ultimately, happiness.

For the professionals:
Let’s take legitimate chronic physical pain and make it a separate, unique discussion. Now take educational and prevention efforts out and make that a separate conversation after we recognize that what we’re doing is failing and that Public Service Announcements are not only ineffective wastes of money, but also stupid. Now let’s remind ourselves that what gets lost in our outrage of prescription medication abuse is that alcohol is still our number one problem. Let’s get over medical marijuana and consider that it’s safer and more effective than benzodiazepines. Now let’s focus on the fact that what we’re doing IS NOT WORKING. Then maybe we can do something really revolutionary. Maybe we involve actual active addicts and alcoholics into our professional conversations. They’re the experts on addiction. Then maybe we can learn from the brave men and women of AA and NA and incorporate what actually works.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in assisting people in recovery (whether from drugs, alcohol, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.