The Mentality of Addiction (Switching Addictions)

In a recent Time magazine essay, Lance Morrow writes that "the mentality of addiction, of alcoholism, prevails in zones of American life even when no drugs are involved." How true! This means, of course, that no "war on drugs," no "drug czar" will be able to solve our problems with addictions because drugs are not the problem. When one addictive substance or behavior is not available to us, we can surely choose another. A long list of socially acceptable addictive behaviors and processes (work, shopping, religion etc.) are available for those who are not attracted to chemicals. Anesthetics for the emotional pain of life are, and will always be, cheap and readily available.

Because of this we need to remind ourselves regularly that switching addictions is not the same thing as recovery. I reflected on this recently while watching an old movie on TV. Not that long ago alcoholism was a popular motif in comedy. Inebriated characters like those portrayed by Dean Martin were funny. There was a kind of bizarre lovableness to drunken characters. There was a laughable, likable, sociableness to alcoholism. Today, I think most of us look back on these movies in astonishment and wonder: "How could people have laughed at something this painful?".

But, have things changed? Two of the most popular comedies on television today feature addicted characters. Sam Malone on "Cheers," who we are told is a "recovering" alcoholic, runs a friendly neighborhood bar. Alcohol does not seem to be a problem at Cheers - no one is ever inebriated. But, the dramatic foundation of the Malone character is completely wrapped around his compulsive sexual quest. In exactly the same way that Dean Martin was funny because he was an alcohol addict, Sam Malone is funny because he is a sex addict. The Dan Fielding character on "Night Court" is another example of a humorous portrayal of a sex addict. We laugh at his antics, his complicated sexual intrigues. We laugh in spite of the terror and self-loathing that lie just beneath the surface and in spite of the enormous social and personal costs of sex addiction.

Because switching addictions is such a common pitfall in recovery, we need to be clear that sobriety is not achieved by merely avoiding our preferred "drug." When Sam Malone traded alcohol for sex he did not suddenly become a healthy person, he merely switched addictions. Sobriety is, rather, the process of living a completely new and non-compulsive kind of life. In this new way of life, we abandon all of our varied attempts to anesthetize ourselves to the emotional realities of life. In the process we learn that with God's help and with the daily disciplines of recovery we can grow into physical, psychological, social and spiritual health.

May God grant you the courage today to recognize what is real, the daily strength to choose life and the fellowship you need on your journey. May your roots sink deeply in the soil of his love.

from: STEPS Magazine Volume 2, Issue 1. Reproduction in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.

Reproduction in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited.

by Dale S. Ryan

Dale Ryan, part of the School of Theology faculty since 1993,
is associate professor of recovery ministry and director
of the Fuller Institute for Recovery Ministry.

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