Young People Ask . . .
How Can I Break Free From Drugs?
AS THE drug slowly took effect, Ann waited for the first rush of excitement. She had experienced it many times before. She would lay back, close her eyes, and seemingly melt into a state of semiconsciousness, oblivious of everything around her.
But this time it was different. As her eyes closed and the euphoric surge consumed her, she passed into unconsciousness. Her breathing became labored and her heart palpitated irregularly. She came very close to dying.
“I woke up in the hospital,” recalls Ann, her face reflecting a look of gratitude for the fact that she is alive today to tell her story. “I had several close calls, but fortunately for me I received the help I needed before I killed myself.”
Ann was indeed fortunate. However, thousands of other young people are not. Each year an alarming number of young people die from taking drugs. Many others want to break free from drugs but fail after making an attempt at a drug-free life.* Why is this true? The publication Recovery and Relapse provides a clue: “Emotional sobriety in reality is our goal, not mere physical abstinence.”
In agreement with this, one counselor for a large drug rehabilitation center in New York told Awake!: “The secret to breaking free from drugs is not simply to stop using drugs but rather to change your way of thinking, your whole approach to life. You must come to the point where you enjoy life more without drugs than you did with them.”
But how can one accomplish this? According to a number of major drug rehabilitation programs, breaking free from drugs must involve a physical and emotional recovery, to which we might add a spiritual recovery. All are necessary for a happy, drug-free existence.
The first step is the physical recovery. (A future issue of Awake! will deal with the emotional and spiritual recovery.) Of course, this would involve stopping the use of drugs. If the person is physically dependent* on drugs, he likely will experience withdrawal symptoms, including increased anxiety, shaking, nausea, insomnia, psychosis, or convulsions.—Compare Proverbs 23:31, 32.
“I was extremely nervous,” recalls Allen, who spent 12 years of his life misusing drugs. “When I first stopped using drugs, the withdrawal was so bad I couldn’t even drive a car.” In light of the dangers involved, it would be wise to enlist the aid of a competent physician who is familiar with drug detoxification.
Where a person is physically or emotionally dependent on drugs, most drug rehabilitation professionals highly recommend that he abstain completely from all drugs that can have a mood-changing effect on him. Mood changers are drugs that alter one’s mental and emotional capacities. Simply stated, they are drugs that make you drowsy, sleepy, calm, energetic, nervous, more alert, or cause hallucinations. These would include tranquilizers, narcotics, sedatives, alcohol, even over-the-counter nonprescription drugs such as cold remedies or cough medicines, which may contain such mood changers as antihistamine or alcohol.
Why must all such drugs be avoided by the former drug addict? According to one drug rehabilitation publication: “The only way to keep from getting or continuing a habit is not to take that first fix, pill or drink. . . . We put great emphasis on this for we know that when we use drugs in any form, or substitute one for another, we release our addiction all over again.”
To illustrate: Consider the example of a recovering heroin user. What might happen if, after abstaining from heroin for some time, he begins to drink alcohol? He would be in real danger of reactivating his compulsion to get high. And once the compulsion to get high is rekindled, it’s very difficult for him not to return to drugs. “Compulsion,” states Recovery and Relapse, “that once having started the process with one ‘fix,’ one pill, or one drink, we cannot stop through our own power of will.”—Compare Proverbs 23:35.
That’s what happened to Allen, who had abstained from drugs for over a year. During a hospital stay, he was administered a narcotic painkiller. The drug activated his compulsion to get high. With what result? “When I got out of the hospital, I drank like a madman,” recalls Allen. “Eventually I returned to all kinds of street drugs.”
The Lure of Feeling Good
To understand this better, it’s helpful to consider the primary reason for using drugs—to feel good. This is exactly what mood-changing drugs are designed to do. In some cases, they serve a beneficial purpose. For example, what if you were in severe pain from injuries sustained in a serious automobile accident? Your doctor may prescribe a narcotic painkilling drug to help you feel better while you recover. Besides killing the pain, the drug may also relax you by reducing your anxiety. This is due to the mood-changing properties of the narcotic, which can be helpful to the recovery of a patient who has been exposed to serious trauma.—Compare Proverbs 31:6.
But it’s different with the drug addict. How so? Well, why does he use drugs? Is he physically ill? Has he suffered severe injuries? In the overwhelming majority of cases, he is simply seeking the mood-changing effect of the drug. And why? He may start out taking drugs just for fun, for the pleasure of getting high. But he soon learns that the mood-altering properties of drugs can instantly (although temporarily) relieve the emotional discomforts of life. And the more he uses drugs, the more dependent he becomes on them to escape things in his life that make him feel uncomfortable. It is the lure of this escape that brings him back to the drug for more and more of its mood-changing effect.
So the problem in recovery from drug misuse is not only the physical addiction to the drug but also the mental dependency on the mood-changing property of the drug. For that reason, after withdrawal, the recovering drug addict must work on the long-term problem of learning to live a happy life without drugs.
Total Abstention a Must!
So the bottom line is this: Total abstention from drugs is essential to recovery.* The Bible tells us: “If your right hand is making you stumble, cut it off.” (Matthew 5:30) Yes, it’s best to ‘cut off,’ or make a clean break from, anything that can stumble us in life. Wouldn’t that apply to something as potentially deadly as the misuse of drugs?—1 Peter 2:11.
But once the drug user makes the decision to abstain from drugs, how can he stick to his decision? The Bible answers, “Be transformed by making your mind over.” (Romans 12:2) Yes, he must change his way of thinking, his whole approach to life. He must stop seeking escape by means of the mood-altering drugs and learn to face the discomforts of life confidently, doing so in a way that actually lets him enjoy life despite any hardships that may come his way.
But how can this be accomplished? Through the next two steps involved in recovery—emotional and spiritual. These will be discussed in a future issue.
Please see the article “Young People Ask . . . Why Say No to Drugs?” in the Awake! issue of March 8, 1985.
That’s not to say that all who use drugs are physically dependent. Some occasionally use drugs to get high. Yet these may quickly learn that getting high can be used as a means of coping with discomforts. This, in turn, can lead to emotional dependency and physical addiction.
Of course, there may be certain life-threatening situations when it may be necessary to administer a mood-changing drug to a former addict. In this case the drug plays an important role in the actual recovery from trauma due to illness or accident. It is the responsibility of the former drug user to inform his doctor of his past history with drugs. Once the doctor has such information, he will be in a better position to decide whether a drug is needed or not.
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Could prescription drugs lead him back to dependency?
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Before a doctor prescribes medication, he should be informed of a patient’s past misuse of drugs