After 20 years as an addictions counselor in a residential rehabilitation center on Long Island, I have come to understand the causes and concerns of the disease of addiction. My clients were my best teachers, along with my education and training. My reference to addictive behavior is any substance or behavior that creates dependency and ultimately illness.
I’ll comment on causes first. No one ever starts with a goal of addiction; just to feel good, be cool or to cover pain, both physical and emotional. What is unknown in the beginning of experimenting with any use of substance and then abuse is the biochemical reaction in the users’ mind-body connection. What is also unknown is the genetic predisposition to dependency. Imagine a common scenario where teens are having a party and beer is available. One teen asks for soda as the taste is unwelcome. Another teens finishes the bottle but then retreats to the bathroom to vomit. The last teen finishes the bottle and asks for another. The last teen is vulnerable because of the feel good factor and tolerance level. Of course, the environment has to provide access with the old adage: “people and places”.
I’ll talk about recovery in reference to the last teen who matures into an adult drinking daily and heavily. After a few DWI’s, some health issues and loss of a job, rehabilitation is the next phase to explore the steps of recovery into sobriety.
During my stay at the rehabilitation center, a seasoned counselor would start his workshops with this introduction, “Hello, my name is Paul. I am an alcoholic and have been sober for 25 years. I am one drink away from my next drunk.” You might think that with enough discipline, one would avoid the next drink. But there is the biological and psychological craving that captures relapse. Here is the critical element of the 12 step program, mentoring and support in both the inpatient and outpatient centers. Programs are a solid process for recovery, one day at a time. It all sounds good on paper and if it were that easy, there would never be another death from drunk driving.
Mothers against drunk driving, students against drunk driving and designated driver on party night are all valuable community efforts but sober driving is an investment in life, yours and others.