accepting addiction?In response to my last post, a reader, Sunkissed, wrote about the many consequences of  active addiction, and noted that the consequences including spiritual impairment and the loss of self-esteem are as valid indicators of ‘addiction severity’ as are consequential effects on earning power—perhaps even more valid.

She wrote about the importance of replacing one’s relationship with a substance with a relationship with God, and asked ‘is there a case… for a positive ‘harm minimization’ approach in the addiction process with the following attitude as a goal:  I AM an addict… I AM ashamed (though i am at peace with God)….. I recognize that addiction DOES affect my finances and my parenting (but i have enlisted strategies and a care plan).  I AM seen as weak and selfish (but I have put in place actions that will minimize the effect of my using on my children)… in short, I am in acceptance of who I am, what I am, and what I do.’

Thank you, Sunkissed, for your comments and insight.  Hopefully I captured the essence of your remarks despite minor editing.

The essence of your question, if I understand correctly, is whether a person can remain in a low state of active addiction, or at least active using, yet reduce or even avoid the usual devastation caused by addiction by coming to terms with their condition on a deep personal level, and being at peace with him/herself and with God or higher power, depending on the person’s spiritual background.

It is worth pointing out that some people can use addictive substances, including opioids and even illegal substances, without developing the obsession for the substance that I would consider ‘addiction.’  I don’t understand those people, but I know they exist!  But I think that Sunkissed is referring to those of us who are susceptible to obsession, and whether we can avoid being destroyed by that obsession–without giving up the substance.

I am pessimistic about such a proposition for several reasons.  First, I don’t know whether a person can be truly at peace with God or Higher Power when actively using substances.  Most people have a collection of morals and values that are at odds with using a substance for the sake of pleasure—particularly if the person is doing nothing to earn that pleasure.  We seem to be able to allow ourselves a short-term respite from the stresses of life without being too hard on ourselves, but if we see ourselves as getting too good of a deal, pleasure becomes elusive—for whatever reason.

I also see challenges with finding a sense of inner peace while in a state of active addiction.  One of my upcoming posts will discuss my own understanding of the dynamic relationship between a person’s obsession to use substances and the person’s character defects.

People who are actively using and seeking substances are in a different state of mind than the quiet mindfulness generally associated with spirituality and inner peace.  Of course, we all have different perceptions of the ideal state of mind to promote inner peace.  But most people, I believe, associate spirituality and inner peace with a state of mindful acceptance that is at odds with using a chemical that alters sensorium or consciousness.

Finally, drug addiction is, in most people, progressive.  Things never stay the same for very long—we become tolerant and so the dose must increase.  And beyond chemical tolerance, people become tolerant to whatever level of pleasure they find in a substance, and strive for just a bit more.

I am not certain, Sunkissed, if you are aware of, and referring to, the many harm-reduction programs in operation across the country—or if you are thinking of a different approach than what is taken by those programs.  Harm reduction programs generally recognize that long-term sobriety is exceedingly rare following residential treatment, and so they work to modify the pattern of use to reduce the chance of injury or other consequences.   The problem with such programs is that some people lose whatever their hard-earned insights with their very first drink.

In the mid-1990’s, a woman named Audrey Kishline made the circuit of morning news and talk shows to promote a group that she co-founded called ‘Moderation Management.’ The organization has similarities to harm reduction models and teaches ‘controlled drinking,’ counter to the abstinence promoted by AA.

In 2000 Audrey Kishline killed two people while driving the wrong way on a freeway while intoxicated.  Moderation Management somehow lives on, but the founder’s story points out a major problem with any harm reduction approach:  while there may be some people who can learn to use substances in a controlled manner, at least some of the people who think they are in control of their use are fooling themselves—and will suffer consequences on their way to learning the truth.

I like the idea, Sunkissed, of learning to love ourselves, and learning that we are OK as we are, even if we are suffering from a potentially fatal illness.  I see the hypocrisy of calling addiction ‘just another disease’, and asking for an end of stigma, and at the same time telling those with active addiction that they are somehow ‘not good enough.’  At some point these concepts and definitions make my head spin.  I understand, in theory, that people have a right to self-acceptance and happiness even if they cannot rid themselves of active addiction.  But in reality, active using and self-acceptance just don’t seem to mix very well.

Photo by Caio Basilio, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.