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October 25, 2004- The Sun Herald (MS)

Dependence On Drugs Or Alcohol Not A Moral Issue

Is It Bio-Psychological Dependency Or Is It A Moral Issue?

By Shirley Thurman (Note: Shirley Thurman has a degree in human services, is an international certified alcohol, drug abuse counselor, an advanced certified relapse prevention specialist and has a bachelor's degree in theology.

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Addiction has its own set of signs and symptoms, just as any other disease.

We must be careful as to how we label individuals who are less fortunate and find themselves caught in the vicious cycle of addiction. There are those who, unfortunately, are born with the genetic makeup that causes one to be prone to addiction. Some have said that it is a moral issue. Low morals do not cause one to become addicted. But morals are affected once one becomes addicted. Is it a moral issue when a person is affected by a medical complication or a psychiatric disorder?

Do you really feel that someone would set out to become an addict, be it to alcohol or drugs? Someone would probably say, "Well, they go out and buy alcohol and drugs." At some point in our lives, most have gone out and purchased alcohol, and maybe even drugs. Some have experimented, and were able to quit when ready. The key word is "able." Some are able to quit and others are not without help.

Mental health workers (psychiatrist, therapist, counselors, social workers, psychologist, as well as mental health clinical staff) are educated in the field of addiction. There are several different tools that are used to adequately assess and diagnose. One must understand the physical and psychological effects of substance abuse and must be able to adequately summarize a bio-psychosocial assessment to include family background, medical, psychological, emotional, social, spiritual and financial aspects of one's life. Not only are these effects assessed for the abuser, but the effects on the family are assessed, as well. Everyone in the family is affected.

The addict does not plan to destroy his family, job, stability and marriage, lose connection with children, or spiritual connection with God. Is it not necessary that the person comes from the wrong side of the tracks. I believe that every American has had some morals and values instilled in them. I have counseled doctors, lawyers, nurses, ministers, adults, teens and a couple of millionaires who lost everything. I have come to realize that some of these so-called indigents have more morals, values and pride than some professionals I have counseled. In some cases, some are very intelligent and respectful.

It's not that an addict has no morals or values. What happens are the morals and values are affected by the use of alcohol and drugs. When a person's mind becomes impaired, judgment and thoughts are not appropriate.

How many times have you heard someone say, "He/she was not raised that way; or he/she came from a good family; or, he/she came from a Christian home. What happened? Or, I just can't believe they broke up, it was because he/she was using drugs."

Chemical dependency is a family disease. Everyone is affected. Then there is the four-letter word, "love." If you love me, then you would quit. But, truthfully, it's not that easy. The addict loves his family but feels trapped. The addict feels ashamed, guilty, remorseful, worthless, helpless, hopeless and angry with himself. He is more down on himself than one can imagine. He might even contemplate suicide. Families feel trapped. They are afraid of the possible loss of security. There is anger and resentment toward the addicted person, and family members also are afraid of losing their loved ones.

The most important thing is to make sure and seek proper help and possibly treatment for a loved one. Depending on the substance being abused, it is possible there could be some major withdrawal symptoms if the person is attempting to quit cold turkey. Ask questions and seek help.

In order to understand, one must be in a setting where they are available to have personal contact with people from all walks of life.

And we talk about morals and values when peoples live are being destroyed, families are broken up, children are losing their parents, mothers and fathers are losing their children. Ninety percent of these addicts want help. Then there is the other 10 percent who don't know how to go about seeking the help they need. We have individuals who are born into environments where alcohol and drugs are a part of a lifestyle. We call these learned behaviors. Unfortunately, these individuals are trapped as well. Are we going to just write articles that criticize and label, or debate the issues, or is there something we can do?

Am I an advocate for addicts, be it alcohol or drugs? Yes. No man should be labeled because of a condition. Addiction, (chemical dependency) is no more a moral issue than bipolar, schizophrenia, depression, cancer, high blood pressure, or any other diagnosed disorder.

Some individuals with psychiatric disorders use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, whether they have been diagnosed or not. So are they considered a person with a psychiatric problem or a person who is an addict? These individuals are dually diagnosed, meaning they have two disorders. But this can not be determined until they are properly assessed and tested.

People are walking the streets every day with major problems, medical and psychiatric. Let's not be so concerned about the moral issue, but focus on understanding the truths of the disorder. Perhaps then we will be able to communicate more effectively.

Of course, anyone who does not understand the genetic makeup, or who is not and addictionologist, psychiatrist, medical doctor, psychologist, counselor, therapist, social worker, or who has no hands-on contact with psychiatric patients or addicts would be of the opinion that all addicts have no morals or values. This is not necessarily true.

This issue can be debated until the end of time, but who in their right mind would willingly inflict such loss, damage, injury and prejudices upon themselves and their loved ones?

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