Healthy Addiction?

Battling addictions is notoriously difficult.  Received wisdom states that many addicts need to hit rock bottom before they can get back up.  What’s tricky about this is that  you might not be able to.

But let’s say you can.  Let’s say you want to get help and (work with me on this) that such help is both affordable and available.  What are the odds of your succeeding?

38 per cent.

Only 38 per cent of patients leaving rehab programmes overcome their addictions. And yes, that’s the ones who get the experts. This is according to a 2009-10 report from the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System.

So why is this?

Stephen Russell, aka the ‘Barefoot Doctor’, says:

‘Rehab works for people who respond, Pavlovian-style, to corrective discipline.  But most addicts are rebels by nature. Instead, new, healthy addictions have to be instilled.  Once rooted, these benign addictions leave less time and, gradually less inclination for unhealthy ones’.

It’s an interesting comment and one which sums up the thinking behind a whole range of modern rehab approaches.  But how does it look through a gospel lens?

1. Yes, addicts are rebellious.   However, this is a definition that applies to us all. By nature,  I fall into the bracket of ‘good girl’ rather than dissenter – if I met me, I’d want to flush her head down a toilet. But my heart’s cry is and always has been this:  ‘I’m boss and nobody, but nobody tells me what to do’.  Why? Because I’m human. I’m a sinner and sin is an addiction which makes rebels of us all – not just the drug users.

2.Secondly, whilst corrective discipline might keep some of our behavioural excesses in check, Russell’s right in suggesting it will never change us.  That’s not because an addict is a different kind of person to most humans, and one requiring a new approach.   It’s because a purely behavioural system never reaches or captures the  heart. As Paul reminds us, fear and law cannot master the seat of our passions.  It can restrain our longings, but it can’t change them.

3.Is there such a thing as a  ‘healthy’ addiction? Here’s how the term is defined by the American society of addiction medicine:

‘Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry…reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. The addiction is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships. .. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death’.

On this reading  addiction cannot be healthy or benign.  But I can see where Russell’s coming from.  If you believe that you’re genetically programmed to self-destruct, then all you can do is manage this nature by picking the lesser of several evils.  Again it comes back to the heart.   Russell himself recognises that behavioural change can only go so far, but nonetheless, this is all that he and our world can offer.

With this approach, the addict is ‘cured’ by replacing their original addiction with one that’s deemed more acceptable. Shopping instead of starving.  Exercise instead of drink. A ‘healthy’ addiction for an ‘unhealthy’ one. On the outside we’re cleaned up, but inside nothing has changed.

What do you think?  Is there such a thing as a ‘healthy addiction’?  Is that the way to fight addictive behaviours?

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