by the Rev. Dr. Seamus Doyle, member of the Addiction Recovery Ministry

So, what’s your new addiction since COVID19?  Reading? Running around the house? Video games? Bible reading? Ah, sure don’t we all have an addiction and some of them are harmless? Well, it all depends on how you look at it. An addiction is, in the definition by Drs Robert and Mary McAuliffe in their Essentials of Chemical Dependency:  “A love relation between a person and a mood-altering chemical in expectation of a rewarding experience.”                                                                        

The first rewarding experience is “I like what it does for me,” “I like what it does to me.” And from here the addicted person believes he* has control over whatever it is that they have now become addicted to. This irrational belief is important as it impacts the person as he becomes increasingly more controlled by that to which he is addicted. The person in this first “phase” can “take it or leave it” and this reinforces the belief  “I can quit anytime I want.” What the person does not understand is that he does not know which drink or drug (prescription or otherwise) he picks up will be the one to get him intoxicated. One night it is controlled drinking. The next it is uncontrolled. When asked “what happened” he has a multitude of excuses.                                                                                                

The second rewarding experience is that the mood-altering chemical numbs the emotions of Guilt and Shame. Under the influence, the individual may say or do something about which he feels guilt and shame. Guilt says “I made a mistake.” Shame says “I am a bad person.”  The guilt may be erased by making amends. Shame, however, says: “You’re just like….” And so, that which caused the guilt and shame now becomes the cure for the negative emotions.                                                                                                         

As the addiction continues the individual may stop using for a limited or extended period of time. Many years ago, a lady who was admitted to treatment for alcoholism. In her twenties, she was told to stop drinking in order to take a promotion. She became a “fitness freak”, a workaholic; a churchaholic. She did not drink or smoke. A few weeks after retirement, her doctor “prescribed” a glass of wine with dinner to calm her nerves. Very soon she was back to her addiction of choice.  Others may stop and start but the times between these becomes shorter and the usage increases.                                                      

There are those who stop and, like the above-mentioned lady, become dry drunks. It is said of them “He’d be more fun if he had a drink.” Some stop because of religion; others because of DWI’s, others because of work requirements. But these individuals are not sober. They are just not drinking or using.                                                                                  

Then there are the Social rewards. There is the joke that a social drinker is one who, when someone says, “I’ll have a drink,” says, “So shall I.” The social reward for the addict/alcoholic is that they either become the center of attention, or, they may love to isolate and drink alone.  They may not like to drink at a social gathering but will do so before and after it. This tells them “I have control”                                                                                 

Physically, the addiction affects the body and the mind. There is a Chinese proverb that says “The man took a drink. The drink took a drink. Then the drink took the man.” The person is not aware of the physical and psychological damage that is happening to him. He may say “I know I’m an alcoholic,” but he is not fully aware of the damage that is being done to his mind and body. There are those who experience blackouts from the beginning while others may not experience blackouts till later. A person in a blackout can function normally e.g. drive, teach, celebrate Mass, perform an operation, but they do not remember it later.                                                                                                                                         

There are those who reach the point of saying: “I’d be better off dead. Nobody likes me. I don’t like myself.” And they literally drink themselves to death.                                      

Spiritually, the person is now dead. He has lost his ability to think clearly about his addiction. Intervention, professional or otherwise, is needed to get the individual to a 12 Step program and or treatment.                                                                                                     

            *He or She

Rev. Dr. Seamus P. Doyle AADC, LAC