Disease concept and self worth

People addicted to alcohol and other drugs almost always have families – wives, husbands, mothers, fathers, sons, daughters — and addiction touches all their lives. I stated alcohol and other drugs because alcohol can be as devastating as cocaine or heroin. I once asked my group if they believed chemical dependency was a disease. They all agreed it was. I then asked if they would put it equal to cancer. No hands went up. Because of the current and past thinking and beliefs, the urgency to get better becomes irrational. Thus let’s see if I can dispute this belief.

On a Sunday morning at Holy Trinity’s 11 a.m. Mass, a mom tapped me on the shoulder and stated, “It’s a shame that many people don’t consider this a disease, instead of rating someone as a moral weakling for contracting addiction.”

So Mom, this article is for you and I hope it helps to clarify the disease concept of chemical dependency.

Let’s start with alcohol. Many people drink without any apparent effects. The normal pattern is as follows: Alcohol — alcohol/dehydrogenase broken down AAD to acetaldehyde to acetic acid (vinegar). Then dopamine forms THIQs. The “normal process” CO2 and H20 goes to urine, sweat, to acetic acid forms, THIQs

If you drink alcohol, it is then broken down by AD to acetic acid and then goes out of your body as urine or sweat.

Unfortunately, and we don’t know why, the chemical acetaorhyde mixes with dopamine in the brain to form what we call “THIQs.” This word has 26 letters, you don’t need to know it except to know it’s the problem. These THIQs are found in the brain of people addicted to alcohol, but not in the brains of social drinkers. If an alcoholic stops drinking, they do not go away. They cannot be detected while a person is alive, and as of yet have not had treatment to detect who is at high risk. The more one drinks, the more are developed. In the brain, they affect reasoning, high tolerance, loss of behavioral control as well as “numbing” feelings. They are responsible for “blackouts: or putting your brain to sleep, so you have no memory of behavior.

I had a client who left my office, went on a binge, ended up in Las Vegas, and to this day has no memory of how he got there. Thus when some of the “controlled drinking” theories, give in and enable people to continue to drink, while in treatment, they need to go back and look at the disease concept. Controlled drinking, like harm reduction, never worked and will not work. I hope that upsets some of you who are taking the easier, softer way in your counseling.

When I was young counselor, an experiment was presented to us that I’ve never forgotten. It involved white rats in a controlled environment. A maze was set up with two stations, one for food, the other for alcohol. Rats have an aversion to alcohol and won’t drink it. A rat would go down the maze, come the “T,” look right and then go left to the smell of food, press the lever and eat. The same rat was taken out of the cage, injected with “THIQs” and sent down the maze. If I had not seen this I would never believe it. The rat would come to the “T,” look left, and then turn right, where alcohol was, press the lever until he either passed out or died. This idea coupled with family genetics, cultural thinking on drinking was enough for me to strongly believe in the disease concept, not moral weakling. No one starts out to be addicted, I mean no one says, “I’m going to drink and become the best alcoholic that ever lived.” It just happens over time and our job is to teach people how to manage it through abstinence!

With other drugs such as heroin, cocaine, and so on, it’s a little different. If you can imagine a sponge, full of water sitting in your sink. The normal process would be to let it sit and the water would eventually evaporate and water would be added again to make it functional. The sponge is the brain. The water is chemicals like dopamine, serotin and norepinephrine. These chemicals are in sites in the brain called “receptor sites.” Don’t let me lose you. So what happens when someone uses cocaine for the first time? Instead of the water going out of the sponge naturally, it is squeezed hard dry and emptied with a rush. One of my clients stated “I’m still looking for that high I got the first time in 1988.” In CD terms, we call this “chasing the high!” Most will never get the same result again but will try.

Like the sponge, if someone stops using an a reasonable amount of time, these “sites” will be replaced. With continued use of any drug, the sponge will be dry, and the term “using more and enjoying it less,” surfaces. The brain is a stupid organism. It only knows what it wants. If the drug of your choice is absent, you will go through mood swings, tremors, sometimes vomiting and withdrawal. Every addict hates pain, both mental and physical, and will do anything to avoid it. If they need money, they either deal or steal. The problem in treatment when I tell them it is going to take 18 to 24 months to restore the chemicals they have depleted, their jaw drops. “That long?” To me, harm reduction is being under doctor’s care at this point and being medicated, if they need it, properly. I’m speaking of Methadone, Soboxin, Vivitrol properly administered. “Harm reduction” is not telling a heroin addict, who has a craving, to “use alcohol” instead of his main drug. I find this absurd, or discharging someone with a successful discharge, who is using alcohol instead of cocaine. The program of self-help was founded on abstinence. Read the Big Book. That is why the theme song of Tom Petty, “I Won’t Back Down” is what we subscribe to in REBT. Furthermore, “no pain – no gain” is 100 percent. Most people know that “starting the stopping” is going to be painful. Tough, get over it.

Many of my people in addiction will do anything to have people like them. Because of their lack of self-worth, they value others more than themselves. I usually give them this simple passage to ease the shame, guilt, anxiety, anger, rage, depression and fear.

“You are not everyone’s cup of tea.”

The world is filled with people who, no matter what you do, will simply not like you. But the world is also filled with those who will love you freely. The people who love you, they are your people.

Don’t waste your finite time and heart trying to convince the people who aren’t your people, that you have value, they will miss it completely. They won’t buy what you are selling. Don’t try to convince them to walk in your path, because you will only waste your time and your emotional good health.

You are not for them and they are not for you. You are not their cup of tea and they are not yours.

Politely wave them along and move away as well, seek to share your path with those who recognize and appreciate your gifts, who you are. Be who you are – “you’re not everyone’s cup of tea.”

Thank you brother Dan for this great passage. Love ya bro.

I have spent 40 years in sales, 36 years in counseling and over 30 in coaching basketball. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, but I never would have lasted this long if I didn’t find people who considered me their cup of tea.

Mike Tramuta has been a CASAC counselor for over 30 years and currently runs the REBT program on Thursday nights at the Holy Trinity Parish Center from 7 to 8:15 p.m. Call 983-1592 for more information.