Oklahoma is now debating our response to addictions and substance abuse. I recently had an impromptu debate with Steve Kunzweiler, Tulsa's District Attorney on the matter. He believes he's doing the druggy a favor by prosecuting him. He thinks some good discipline and fear will fix the condition.
Twenty years ago, I would have totally agreed with my Roman Catholic DA. . As a bible school graduate and former pastor, I knew the bible and what it says about lust, craving, and fallen(sinful) mankind.
I thought I knew it all. (most specialists like to believe that their specialty is the solution).
But the past 20 years of caring for people with mental illness has taught me some very real lessons.
The Sick Boy
Let's use an analogy of a sick boy lying down with a nauseous stomach. He doesn't want to vomit on the sofa. He tries to hold it down. But eventually he upchucks despite his efforts to stop the unwanted behavior.
Do we punish him?
Well he caused a big mess. We know he's the one responsible for his own behavior.
But hard as he tried, his brain and nervous system gave way to an impulse so strong and an esophagus which threw it into reverse gear.
The boy is sick. His brain instinctively acted out something. The stomach had poisons which had to be expelled and the upholstered sofa was not a worry to the subconscious brain. But the nervous system's messages from the stomach were a big worry to the brain.
Now imagine that instead of the stomach having a disorder, the brain itself does. Whether genetic or from trauma, the brain got impacted in a way it could not defend. Now it's chemistry is fouled up and causing all sorts of thoughts, urges, desires, fears, rages, ... or worse yet; nothing (a catatonic state or even unconsciousness).
Brain researchers now see the lasting harm that some chemical substances can have on some brains. And drugs like alcohol, nicotine, narcotics, stimulants, and other substances, can often devastate brain chemistry permanently.
The brain is often left craving a substance for the rest of a person's life. But that craving is also so deadly, in many cases.
The Apostle's Qualifier
The Apostle, Paul; gave an instruction to the church which starts out with this qualifier;
"And if it is possible, according to what is within you, ...." [Romans 12:18]
Back to our vomit analogy...
Fortunately, most parents have been in the boy's condition long before becoming a parent. So most kids are not severely punished for their brain sending the signal to upchuck.
But not so with other brain disorders. Many ignorant adults try to tell a person suffering major depression to "snap out of it"; but that gross ignorance just adds to the illness because the ill person then feels even worse because he cannot accomplish the task.
There is even more ignorance among my beloved fellow Christians in the area of addictions. The trauma sustained by the brain (whether it be a devastating experience they lived through, or the brain being invaded by a harmful substance) causes some to suffer a prolonged disorientation. Not everyone. But some, none-the-less.
Shunning Is Not A Treatment
Why do we look down on them for contracting this disorder? We don't shame the folks who get the flu? We don't scold the people who suffer kidney failure? It's as ignorant as exiling all sufferers of skin disorders, with the label of 'leper' and telling them that "God doesn't love them, either. they are 'bad' and their problems are their own doing."
So let's challenge our own attitudes about behavior caused by the brain's unique impulses, desires, cravings, fears, or other impulses.
I've added the link to the Surgeon General's pronouncement about addictions. I think he makes the same mistake I once did, but in reverse.
He's an expert on physiology. But He's not an expert on spirituality. So he assumes that no moral failure led to the addiction. I will not dismiss that narrative. There are plenty of otherwise healthy young people who live wreckless lives of pleasure and experimentation. I won't condone their foolishness altogether. Some of them are able to exercise better discipline than what we see.