Uptown Street Corner Counseling: Chemical Dependency: The Disease

Uptown Street Corner Counseling
Chemical Dependency: The Disease
by Mike Saponara

It's with great pleasure that I take this opportunity to reflect on my experience with the treatment of chemical dependency as a disease. Treatment does work! The success rates for addiction and alcoholism are approximately in the same ranges for diabetes, cardiovascular, and respiratory diseases - between the 30-40 percent. That is for patients who follow their treatment plan, i.e., diabetics who refrain from candy, a heart patients' abstinence from salt and a juicy t-bone, and respiratory patients avoiding smoke. The addict must abstain from mood/mind altering chemicals and the people, places, and things associated with the chemicals. The disease can be arrested and brought into remission. Not cured! As in diabetes patients, they must treat themselves with insulin regularly and engage lifestyle changes. So do alcoholics and addicts. The condition did not occur overnight so one can't expect for it change overnight. There must be physical, mental, and spiritual healing. Mere abstinence from the chemical doesn't equate healing and recovery. As the saying goes, "You can take the rum out of a fruitcake but you still have a fruitcake". One big misconception about the chemically dependent person is that it's a moral decision to partake of the problematic chemical. Once the afflicted person ingests the chemical, a major change takes place due to a biological predisposition. It's much like an allergic reaction. The chemical dependent doesn't break out into hives or swell up. They break into depression, legal, financial, and domestic problems. Once the affected person ingests the substance it is not about control. They're out of control. If it were about control it would be like giving someone laxatives and telling them not to go to the bathroom. Once it's ingested, change takes place. Biology and nature take their course. The closest thing to moral decision or control are only associated with picking up the first drink or drug, after that it's out of control. Dependent people don't wake up one day and make a decision to drink or drug out of control and hurt loved ones, wreck cars, get arrested, destroy finances, get depressed, and become a slave to a chemical. It is more like, "Why am I like this and why can't I stop?" They can't! Not on their own. They need help. Pride, isolation, and fantasy of controlled use perpetuate failure. They don't know or feel this in their despair. They must learn these things and implement them in their life through therapy, 12 step programs, lifestyle changes, and possibly medication. Once learned they can incorporate these tools into their thinking, then realize chemical use is not an option, and life becomes more manageable. If the addict or alcoholic picks up the first one then, the physical - chemical change takes place and the relapse occurs and the malady takes its course of dysfunction. Cravings for the chemical will arise but through prolonged abstinence and newly developed coping skills intoxication and euphoria are much less lucrative. At Safe Haven we provide these tools and they work to heal lives and families. So 30 to 40 percent improvement in the chemically affected population isn't bad. Life is precious and time can't be recovered. So don't waste it.

Safe Haven Counseling Center is located at 328 N. Potomac Street in Hagerstown. 301-766-7214. If you would like to suggest topics or have questions email: streetcornerquestions@safehavencounseling.com.