No Magic Cure for Drug Addiction (Part 1)

by: Bob Garon
Manila Times | February 15, 2000

Treating drug addicts is not an easy task. It is not as simple as prescribing medication and then waiting for it to take effect. There is no magic pill that you can give the addict that will effect a quick cure. Perhaps someday, but for now we need to do it the long, hard way.

A major problem in treating the drug abuser is that he almost always does not want to get well. Drug addiction and alcoholism are perhaps the only diseases that their victims enjoy. Addicts and alcoholics like their drugs and alcohol. The diabetic can’t wait to be rid of his affliction. The addict resists attempts at getting him well. The person who suffers from heart disease would do anything to be well again. The addict is convinced that his life is better with his addiction even if his world is spinning out of control.

In fact, one of the major problems with treating the addict is convincing him that he is sick and needs help. And most often, parents, relatives and spouses have to exert great pressure to force the addict into treatment. Many times, families of older addicts fail and simply give up. They sit back, helpless and suffering, as they watch the addict self-destruct.

Usually, when the addict is brought to our Nazareth House at out ranch in Batangas, we need to spend time preparing him for treatment. This is necessary because, even if he is with us in the ranch, he does not believe he needs help and should be there.

All addicts, especially the hard core, either do not acknowledge any drug use at all, or, if they do, they deny the real extent of their use. And if they eventually acknowledge the true extent of their drug use, they refuse to accept this as a real problem.

It’s amazing how the whole world can tell the addict how his life is a complete disaster, but he continues to insist that is isn’t so and that he can work out everything.

Sooner, rather than later, our staff and our residents help him to see that his addiction is really a problem. But then we run into another barrier: he does not see the connection between his drug use and the many other problems in his life.

When we finally succeed in making him see that there is a link between his drugs and his messed up life, we run into the next obstacle to treatment: he still does not truly believe that he needs to address his problems and his addiction.

Up to now, he has been in various stages of denial. When we finally succeed (some take longer than others) in eliminating his denials, the next stage we need to address is his ambivalence.

At this point, the addict does recognize some transient or specific problems, but he does not describe these in terms of misuse, excess, abuse, dependency or addiction. And he surely does not identify with other addicts, “I’m not an addict,” is the common refrain. “I can stop anytime,” he says. It’s just that he claims he has chosen not to right now.

Often, there is the belief that his drug use is beneficial to mood (“It relaxes me”) or performance (“It helps me stay in my studies” or “I need it to do my job better”). It’s all non-sense of course, but the addict still sees the benefits of using drugs. He remains unconvinced of the value of change. He looks at the efforts needed to change and believes the whole process isn’t worthwhile.

Imagine what we are up against. It’s like trying to convince a dying man who refuses to take the medicines that will save his life. He thinks he doesn’t need them even as he further deteriorates.

More tomorrow.