The duality of addiction has got to go — 2CEUs

The best villain in the comic book world, to me, is Two Face.  He was once a kind and heroic District Attorney, but after being doused with acid on half of his face, he turned into one of the most evil forces in comic land.  He is two people in one, with one of those people understanding good and the other an evil monster.  He flips a two-headed coin to make his decisions; the odds are in evil’s favor.

Two Face resonates with me, not because I wish to be a split personality who always ends up choosing evil, but because I see Two Face as an extreme representation of a substance abuser lost within an addiction.  The difference is that Two Face’s split is obvious.  A substance abuser’s split often is not.

While there are clear situations that someone is abusing substances, for example, a long-time heroin abuser who’s body is scarred along lines that were once active veins, or a crystal meth abuser whose teeth have become little rotten stumps; more often, someone doesn’t show physical signs that he or she is abusing a substance.  He or she can seem perfectly normal, physically, and yet be completely lost within his or her abuse of a substance.  But, a close examination of someone’s behavior most often will reveal the split nature of a substance abuser.

For example, one of the main symptoms that a person is abusing something is shadiness.  That is, if a person seems to always be hiding something and is generally dishonest, this is a strong indicator that something just ain’t right.  Another dead giveaway is money troubles; if someone is always hustling for money, he or she may be needing a way to score such that he or she can get a fix.  Just those two indicators alone tend to reveal the split that occurs when someone is beginning to spiral towards full-blown addiction.

See, addiction is a multi-layered and complex disease that operates on several layers of our lives.  But, because of its hidden nature, addiction (to me) is like a spiritual force that occupies the physical world.  Because of its consistent progression in people, regardless of their background, the commonality between addicts makes addiction an identifiable force.  A person may want a “normal” type life; that is, a life lived towards something with somewhat healthy relationships, but when addiction takes over, the person is then locked in a struggle against what appears to be him or her self.  The truth is more liely that the person doesn’t really know how to uproot the addiction that has taken over his or her life.

To review, addiction is indicated by the presence of the “three C’s:” 1) lack of control when using; 2) continued use despite adverse consequences; and, 3) a compulsive need to use the substance.  All three indicate that a person overcome by an addiction struggles with a force that robs people of their will to not abuse a substance or a behavior.  That is, when people are losing themselves to an addiction, they can’t easily control their actions when it comes to the target of their addiction.

When I first approach someone suspected of abusing a substance, I try to connect with the person without awakening the addictive force that resides inside the person.  It’s not easy.  Addiction will do all it can to maintain its place within someone’s life.  The idea of denial indicates that addiction can manipulate its host into not even being aware that addiction has taken hold.  But, the person is always there, living and fighting for freedom.  We have to approach that person is such a way as to not trigger a defensive response.  I try to discuss behaviors as separate from the person; I evaluate the impact of those behaviors without placing judgment on the person.  If possible, I recommend that we all approach those in our lives we suspect of abusing substances from that same approach label behaviors, not the person.  If we judge the person, the addiction will get stronger, as shame is the fuel through which an addiction grows.  Therefore, if we can keep talking to the person, the addiction may diminish in strength over time.

Two Face is a hopelessly evil soul who can never regain his humanity.  But, as long as we can keep talking and communicating with the person and not the addict, we can allow a person to rebuild his or her humanity over time.  We don’t need any coins or magic bullets.  Just patience, time, and acknowledgment with a person that his or her behaviors are hurtful.