It is not a secret that drugs and alcohol consume addicts’ entire lives and can quite possibly swallow them whole. We see it all the time. Healthy people with bright futures and supportive families simply walk away in order to get high. From an outside perspective, it seems preventable, avoidable, and irresponsible. What people can’t see is the insidious obsession with drugs and alcohol in the mind of an addict.
People born with the alcoholic gene talk about a constant feeling of discomfort, trouble fitting in and difficulty connecting with others. This state of mind can show up in different coping mechanisms before the addict even begins using. Acting out is the most common red flag for an addict who has not yet used: however, it can also show up as an obsession with perfection. I’ve met many addicts who spent the first half of their lives never stepping out of line, getting good grades and keeping their heads down. Regardless of how these feelings manifest themselves, the results are the same.
The sense of ease and comfort that comes with the first drink is what we’ve been looking for our whole lives. Because this is remedying a lifetime of discomfort, it becomes a necessity in our lives. Men who have been told by doctors they will die if they continue to drink are still found falling off bar stools. I have been convinced many times that men have hit rock bottom only to find that there is, in fact, more basement.
William Duncan Silkworth was an American doctor who specialized in the treatment of alcoholism. Silkworth introduced to Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, that alcoholism had a disease-like basis. It is a reasonable assumption to think that addicts have a problem with “self-will” or a lack of motivation. Silkworth presented the question that maybe we never had a lack of self-will, but that alcoholics of the hopeless variety had this insidious obsession with drugs and alcohol that no one else was experiencing. Silkworth had asked to keep his letter anonymous as his hypothesis contradicted popular medical practice in 1938. When the “illness” concept provided hundreds of men and women recovery, he then allowed them to publish his name on The Doctor’s Opinion chapter of the second edition of the Alcoholics Anonymous big book.
I heard a U.S. Army combat veteran speak at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting not long ago who told a story about being part of a medical study on addicts. Results showed that brain waves from the mind of the addict emanated differently than test subjects who did not struggle with addiction. It is hard enough to understand the way human behavior differs from person to person. Personally, it makes so much sense that people who live with an obsession with drugs and alcohol have a different brain function. However, it does little to help us understand that obsession.
It is thought that the obsession with drugs and alcohol can be environment as well as genetic. Not all addicts are born with the addiction gene. I was adopted at birth and raised by parents who drank very rarely and in moderation. When I first started drinking and using drugs heavily, I thought it may be because I was somewhat sheltered from these things and it was normal for me to “get it out of my system.”
I drank heavily for eight years before I met my biological father. I invited him to meet me at a local bar one afternoon. After a few shots of whiskey and a couple of IPA’s he disclosed to me that everyone on his side of the family was dead or in recovery. This hit me like a ton of bricks. It had crossed my mind many times that these were also my two options. I had always known that I didn’t drink like other people, but I had always assumed it was my fault and a cycle of guilt made it impossible for me to stop. Understanding that my own insidious obsession with drugs and alcohol was a genetic trait passed on to me by my father made it easier to understand that reason I couldn’t drink like other people was because I wasn’t like other people. Being able to identify myself as an alcoholic with a sickness made it easy to see just how black and white my options were. I could seek sobriety or I could keep drinking, and drinking for me surely meant to die.
Alcohol and drugs were only a symptom of my genetic alcoholic thinking – a monster that lived in my mind that would not be silenced until I was full of mind-altering substances. It had kept me in bed for weeks, out for days, alienated me from my friends and removed me from my own sanity. To this day I still struggle with accepting the illogical thinking of addicts who are still in the midst of their insidious obsession with drugs and alcohol. Even though I fully understand it from my own experience it never ceases to amaze me.
All the psychological, medical and scientific evidence in the world could not make it any easier to watch someone you love turn their back on their own well-being for something so damaging. Even fully understanding would not take away the heartbreak of losing our friends and family to this harrowing obsession. What we can do is understand that it is not about us; there is nothing we could have done differently in the past to have created a different present. The insidious obsession with drugs and alcohol is something manifested in the mind of the addict and the solution is only achievable when the addict can get outside of him or herself.
Getting Help at Wayside House
If you are a woman struggling with addiction and mental health issues, Wayside House can help. We offer a women-only program and provide a safe, supportive environment to recover in. We have outstanding treatments and therapies that are often only found in more expensive programs. We offer inpatient rehab with various therapies, relapse prevention education, outpatient, and aftercare, as well as services for medical professionals and veterans. Contact Wayside House at 800-655-0817 to learn more.