In the 1970s, I attended a workshop on alcoholism at North Conway, New Hampshire. The theme of the conference was a “Chemical Comfortable Society.” The problem of alcoholism was placed within the context of a society that looked to chemicals to solve all kinds of problems.
One of the speakers told a story about a young man who felt insecure when it came to interpersonal relationships. Someone suggested he might have a drink to help build up his courage. When he did, he found that he was able to fit in with the gang. So next time he was to be out in public, he had a drink to help brace himself up.
Over time, the young man discovered that he had to drive more and more alcohol to get the same effect. Eventually, his drinking was the source of problems. In order to deal with these problems, he would drink, which would cause more problems. At first, he was just psychologically addicted to alcohol. However, with his continued consumption, he became physically addicted.
Not much has changed since the 1970s. We still live in a society that seeks to solve its problems through the use of chemicals. The major difference is that there are more options today. The young man’s story has eerie similarities to the stories of people who become addicted to painkillers today. A person starts taking them to deal with a specific problem. Very often, they have been prescribed by a doctor. With continued use, the person becomes dependent on them until they become physically addicted.
At the time of Jesus, demonic possession was seen as one of the major causes of illness. The demons held their victims in bondage. In the Gospels, Jesus heals a number of people by setting them free from this bondage. In one story he sends the demons into a group of pigs who kill themselves by running in the sea. Thus, it is no accident that members of the temperance movement referred to one of the favorite drinks of their day as “Demon Rum.”
For the first seven months of my clinical year at the Institute of Religion at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas, in the late 1960s, I was assigned to the Houston State Psychiatric Institute where I worked with alcoholics. My involvement took place at an evening Casework Clinic and a local halfway house. My chief learning from that seven months was that recovering alcoholics did a much better job helping the alcoholic than I could ever do.
Today, people are robbed of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness because of their addiction to some chemical. It is a general consensus that we have a problem with substance abuse in this country. What are we to do? We are faced with many options about how to solve the problem. The problem is especially acute when we continue to live in a chemical comfortable society.
One program that has helped many people who were in bondage to addiction and are being robbed of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is the Twelve Step Program. It was first developed for alcoholism but has expanded to many other areas of addiction and problems. At its heart is the affirmation that a person is in bondage to something and by one’s own strength and willpower is powerless to overcome it. One must address the problem of addiction within a supportive and informed community. The Twelve Step program also puts an emphasis on the importance of help from a higher power.