For any substance abuser, there are two components of addiction that make it extremely difficult to control and limit their intake. There is the psychological dependence that happens when the substance sends unnatural levels of dopamine flooding into the brain’s reward pathways. There is also the physical dependence when the body adapts to working with or around the substance, and the withdrawal symptoms that occurs when it stops receiving it. These combined dependencies may result in cravings that rival demonic possession in their ability to override the will of any individual caught up in their clutches.
Is addiction a disease? These days, most medical authorities consider it to be, and there are programs and units in hospitals that are designed specifically to treat substance abuse. In 2016, the World Health Organization estimated that there were 380 million adults suffering from alcoholism worldwide, or about 5% of the total population.
After the initial rush of euphoria passes, both in a drinking session and in the career of a long-time drinker, the consequences of overconsumption can be serious. Beyond the illnesses, lapses in judgement, and strained relations that may result from binge drinking, the long-term adverse effects may include disease, mental health issues, emergency medical services, fatal and nonfatal accidents, suicide, homicide, and incarceration.
When an alcoholic comes in for treatment, the first order at hand is usually to get the substance out of their system in a detox unit. Here medical staff supervise their withdrawal and may give them drugs such as benzodiazepines, to reduce the symptoms and prevent seizures and strokes. Once the patient completes the detox process, the real work begins, and that is determining the underlying issues that have led them to their addiction.
For any addict, substance abuse is just a symptom of deeper, underlying issues. Something has gone wrong. Something is being compensated for. When Bill W., one of the cofounders of Alcoholics Anonymous tried to quit drinking, he found that his willpower was no match for his cravings, and came to regard his alcoholism as a spiritual malady. He’d lost his connection to his Higher Power, and came to conclude that only this Higher Power could lift his obsession.
As far as I was concerned, this made sense. The way I’d been brought up, with my Dad as a pastor, surrounded by one-dimensional Christians, God had come off as a killjoy, a cosmic peeping-tom, with expectations way too high to ever meet, so why try. If I prayed, which I did attempt to do every once in a while, it was with the self-consciousness of a stage actor who hasn’t learned their lines well enough to deliver them with any believability.
What else was missing? Almost everything was missing. I’d gone full ghost sometime during my last few years of high school, and had never learned to establish intimate connections with anyone or anything, let alone my Maker.
There’s a group of hungry ghosts that are always hanging around the Pier Plaza, loitering by day, sleeping beneath the pier at night. I decided to ask one of them, Kenny, who I know from the drum circle, why he drank the way he did. He didn’t even need to think about it. He told me he was lonely, sad, and depressed.
Bingo. That struck a chord with me. Lonely, sad, and depressed. Dying at the hands of drink had often seemed like a better option than suffering through another day like that.