Friday, December 21, 2012

Clearing Substance Addiction: Allergy Plus One

 By Dr. Jon Connelly

People who have experienced active addiction and those who have relationships with these people struggle to understand what is going on. They wonder what causes this problem to take place and cause so much misery? Most people realize that addiction has nothing to do with intelligence. We know that there are brilliant people who have become addicted and that there are people of very low intelligence who have not. I find that in general people blame the problems associated with addictive behavior on issues involving mental health, family problems, a lack of will power, strength of character, values, integrity, ethics, or morality.

Imagine a shelf with beautiful hand carved figurines that have taken thousands of hours from skilled artists to create. There is a hand puppet that picks up one of the beautiful and fragile figurines and begins to smash it. One by one these priceless works of art are destroyed. A man confronts the puppet. He has tears in his eyes due to this senseless destruction. "Why?" He asks, "Why? Why? Why?" The puppets answers: "Ask the hand."

Addictive behavior has nothing to do with mental health. There are people who are emotionally disturbed and mentally ill who have never and will never become addicted. It has nothing to do with strength of character or will power. There are addicts who are best-selling authors, mountain climbers, body builders, and concert pianists. There are people with no morality or ethics who have never become addicted just as there are compassionate and highly ethical people who have.

The AA Big Book speaks about disease and about the concept of allergy. Most people in Twelve Step programs use the word disease much more than the word allergy but I believe that allergy is a more useful concept. An allergy simply means that a particular substance is bad for someone. With most allergies the individual has no interest in repeating what was bad for him. Someone who has an allergic reaction to a bee sting is not looking to get stung again.

Think of addiction as allergy plus one. It is an allergy with one extra quality. It causes an obsessive desire to do what one is allergic to again and again. When the addiction is strong it takes over the individual's mind in the same way as the hand controls the puppet.

For someone to examine himself or become introspective in order to understand his addictive behavior makes no sense. The answer does not lie within the puppet -- it lies within the hand. When addiction is strong it can withstand the forces of reason, logic, morality, or intelligence. If you have acquired clean time you have weakened addiction. When addiction has been weakened it can be controlled and contained. The key is to continue to weaken addiction and the way to do that is to starve it. Create an embargo - a no-fly zone. Make sure it never gets fed.

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