Recovery comes through people, so say most experts involved in addictions recovery. A few would say that we have entered a new age. All we need is a proper assessment to apply pharmacological cure. Still others will argue that a skilled therapist can provide cognitive exercises to teach people to make decisions that overcome self-destructive behavior and those gnawing cravings.
Most “battled scarred” practitioners will take objection to such claims of simplicity. As a profession, the medical and addictions community sticks by the long held position that addictions should be classified as a disease. There are many reasons for that.
Our understanding of brain operation and function has increased tremendously in the last years. With “brain mapping” and increased understanding of brain chemistry we can see what parts of the brain are in play when various activities are occurring. We know that long term alcoholism actually shrinks the size of the brain for example. We know that any substance taken in excess that stimulates the “pleasure” areas of the brain will over-load that particular stimulants receptor path and diminish it over time. That accounts for what we label “tolerance” requiring more of the same stimulant to get the same “high.” We know that a body can be away from an addictive substance for long periods but their high tolerance does not reset. If they choose to imbibe, their brain still needs very high doses—yet the recovered physical body may be thrown in to a shock that creates a heart attack or stroke when once again exposed to the toxins it had once been able to temporarily tolerate. We know the brain creates special memory triggers that scream to be satisfied every time they are set off—called craving which may remain in the brain long after the physical dependence has gone. Addictions are brain diseases.
These physiological realities create a different type of disease than Measles or Malaria. No pills will fix them; no vaccination will protect you from them. Surviving the physical dependence of an addiction withdrawal does not conquer the disease. An addiction is not as simple as an addict making bad choices which they just need to stop. Certainly a will to stop must first come into play or by definition; the addicted continues to act as an addict.
Here we intersect our blog title. How do most stop if it isn’t by a pill or a counselor telling them to “think about what you are doing so you figure out you should stop doing it”—cognitive choice. People help people stop.
Statistics speak clearly. Addictions are broken through people who surround the addicted. Twelve Step programs, group therapy sessions, recovery centers using group therapies account for almost all recovery triumphs.
I love the teaching tool my Christian friend and Counseling Supervisor, Joe Hazel uses. He recounts the biblical story of Lazarus recorded in John 11. Lazarus, a friend of Jesus died. To make a point, Jesus waited until the fourth day before he responded. Over the families objections that Lazarus was wrapped in mummy clothes and deteriorating in the tomb, the tomb was opened and Jesus yelled to his dead friend to “Come forth!” Lazarus staggered out of the tomb. Catch Jesus’ direction to the onlookers! Jesus simply instructed them to “take off the grave clothes and let him go!”
Joe’s point from this story– note how created order typically works. Jesus, the Son of God had full power to do what he chose. Jesus chose to perform the miracle of giving Lazarus new life in front of people that day to demonstrate who he was. Jesus could have easily finished Lazarus’ recovery but he did not. Instead, Jesus instructed the people—friends and family—to participate in the process by unwrapping that which still held Lazarus in bondage.
So Joe points out; it goes with recovery. Yes medical participation and authoritative instruction have their place but when it comes down to it, the people surrounding the person are always the ones that serve to un-wrap the final constraints of addiction.
Family dysfunctions built around and/or propelling the addiction must be identified and eradicated. Participation in group therapies, self-help groups like Celebrate Recovery and family therapy are proven paths to recovery. God could use other paths of healing—and occasionally does such as the Lazarus miracle– but by far, the most employed healing path for the person plagued by addictions comes through other persons serving as wounded healers. One finds healing from those that have gone before. In turn, they become healers for those that will follow. What has been your journey??