Human beings who have become dependent and addicted to alcohol and/or other drugs have a DISEASE.
This illness is just as real and legitimate as cancer. Speaking from a research and scientific point of view, it is inaccurate to say or think that this addiction is a result of weakness or lack of willpower. No one would accuse a cancer victim as someone who creates their own disease. Nor would we label them as weak or narcissistic. There is an undeniable genetic component to the disease of addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The addict/alcoholic is born with an innate predisposition to become addicted.
What comes together is a “perfect storm” of genetic markers, that often includes the likelihood of an early dysfunctional family (also genetically predisposed toward addiction) as well as the probability that drugs and alcohol were available at a vulnerable point in our lives. It may come at a time of physical pain, or at a time of emotional instability (like the teen years). But, once the substance enters the bodies of these genetically predisposed people, something changes within them, and they seem to get on a specific track that leads to ever-increasing dependency. It often starts out quietly, without fanfare and, at this beginning stage, is rarely noticed by family, friends, or the addict themselves.
So, given the addict’s vulnerabilities, they take the mind/mood altering substance and find instant relief from physical and emotional pain. Then, given their genetic predisposition, their bodies do not process the substance the same way as non-addicts. For non-addicts, the entire drug is eliminated from the system completely within a matter of days. For addicts, research has shown us that a small part of that bodily detoxification process builds up a chemical in the brain called “THIQ” (short for tetrahydroisoquinolone). This “THIQ” has only been found in the bodies of drug addicts and alcoholics at autopsy. Researchers believe that the genetic marker for the disease of addiction directs the body’s production of THIQ.
THIQ is a highly addictive substance that stays in the brain of the addict; it never goes away. It is considered much more powerful than morphine. It feeds on itself. This is the basis behind the unimaginable cravings. It is not simply a matter of being “weak” or “lacking in moral fiber”. THIQ is a powerful chemical that is fueling our veracious need for more of itself.
In time, as the THIQ accumulates, the disease of addiction progresses. The more the addict abuses substances, the more THIQ is developed in his/her brain—and the more they need. This is the scientific process that is behind the progression of this disease. Early on, the addict may have been able to stop or control their use after limited substance abuse. Later, the addict can control somewhat if they start using—but he/she cannot control how much they use once they get started. Then, in time, control is gone—lost to us forever. THIQ will be triggered and completely take control of the addict any time they ingest alcohol or other drugs.
This is the very real, tangible, scientific basis of the addict’s insanity referenced in A.A.’s Step 2. Why do people keep using drugs, even when they have destroyed every aspect of their lives by their drug use? Why do they place drugs ahead of their loved ones? Why do they lie, cheat, and steal to have more drugs? Why aren’t the threats of more harm enough to make them stop? The answer is THIQ. The addict’s ability to make rational decisions relative to his/her drug use has completely vanished and is completely subordinated to the power of the action on the brain of THIQ.
THIQ cannot be removed. It will not go away. But it can be made dormant. And the only way to make it dormant is to completely stop fueling it—total abstinence from any and all addictive, mood and mind-altering substances. As soon as the addict ingests a drink or drug, THIQ is again triggered, even if it is decades after stopping. We may struggle to control it for a short while, but it cannot last. The THIQ is far more powerful than we, alone, are.
That’s the scientific explanation for one big piece of this puzzle called addiction. There is ongoing research on addiction that explains it even further. This information is being shared NOT to give anyone an excuse to use drugs. The information is not being shared to try to get the loved ones around the addicted person to be more compassionate or forgiving. It is being shared so that all of us associated with SOZO Recovery Centers, Inc. can see the true essence of the DISEASE, and become enlightened messengers that will help others to avoid looking at addiction as some kind of character flaw or personality disorder. It is much more than narcissism or immaturity. The AMA (American Medical Association) has labeled it a disease for decades. “Disease” is not just a word that the AMA banters about lightly to justify bad behavior. Addiction fully meets all of the AMA’s criteria for classification as a disease.
So, addicts are not at fault for having the gene—they were born that way. The responsibility that must be borne by the addict is that, once he/she recognizes that they have the disease and are offered the tools they need to overcome it, that they do their utmost to surrender to a plan of recovery. In other words, the addict may not be responsible for contracting the disease, but they are fully responsible for their own recovery and past and future behaviors
Recovery takes WORK. It is far more complex that just stopping the substance abuse. The addict has lost their coping skills, personal motivation or emotional growth. If the addict is to stay away from drugs and alcohol, he/she needs to relearn the skills they lost—or learn them for the first time. In reality, we have to become MORE stable emotionally than the average person. Fortunately, we can learn those skills—and the best source for that help has proven to be an excellent treatment program followed by membership in A.A., N.A. or Celebrate Recovery. Attending such self-help fellowships becomes dramatically more profitable for us when we recognize our inherent need to be surrounded by like-minded recovering men and women.
Getting and staying sober in a 12-step fellowship is far more than merely attending meetings. It is a 12-step process of reassessment and recovery. It gives the recovering addict a recipe to relearn how to deal with life without drugs. That’s where we learn to cope. That’s where we learn how to accept and forgive ourselves. That’s where we develop self-esteem and self-respect. For those addicts and alcoholics who are fortunate enough to be residents at SOZO, there is also the amazing opportunity to join a loving church and become an active member of the congregation. At SOZO, faith in God and the spiritual design for living found in the Bible truly completes the beginning of the healing of mind-body-spirit.
The disease is with the addict for life. But, given daily effort, it need not control the addict ever again. Fortunately, just as addiction is progressive, recovery is also progressive. Our skills improve. Our circumstances improve, our faith increases, and we are able to find joy and peace that once eluded us.
Bob O’Dowd, Executive Director
SOZO Addiction Recovery Center