The vicious truth about drug addiction and alcoholismWritten by Bob Waliszewski, Loren Eaton and Adam Holz
The article that follows is a message to teens about what drug use can do to their soul as well as their body:
"I thought marijuana was no big deal. . . . I felt I could stand out if I did crazy things." That was before Kevin West put a bullet through his head – stoned on pot.
Kevin went from house to house with his friends, toking at each stop. Then someone suggested they play a game of Russian roulette.
Kevin agreed. He didn't realize that putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger might be life-changing.
It was. Two years of surgeries, treatment and medication have not erased the damage Kevin did to himself. His left side is paralyzed. He must take medication daily to prevent seizures. "I only smoked for a few months. Now I'm on drugs for the rest of my life. I thought marijuana was no big deal."1
"No big deal . . ."
You've heard anti-drug messages before. Maybe you said, "Yeah, whatever," and didn't give it a second thought. There are a lot of attitudes about drug use floating around. Some say it's harmless fun. Others try to persuade you not to use. But maybe what you're hearing doesn't seem to add up with what you see. You may know people who use. They do well in school. They start on the football or basketball team. You see them smoked out only at parties. And it's the same in the media, where many celebrities enthusiastically endorse pot smoking but seem to suffer few ill effects from their habit. So you may dismiss the warnings.
Despite popular perceptions, even casual drug use can have devastating consequences. Today's anti-drug messages highlight some of them but tend to focus only on the physical effects of use. The teen who's asked Christ to be Lord of his life should know that drug use can damage his soul as well as his body.
Really? Think about it
Contrary to popular opinion, you are not a cosmic accident or mass of protoplasm wandering aimlessly on the planet. Rather, you were specially made by a loving Creator who intends for your life to be dynamic and purposeful. He made you in His image. You are an eternal, spiritual being with a miraculous mind and body that bears His reflection. And He wants every part of you to be pure.
This is only possible when your spirit lines up with God's Spirit. When you sin, you disrupt your companionship with God and begin to slide away from Him. This is often a subtle, slow process – at least at first.
Do not be fooled by those who claim they use drugs as a means to enhance their spirituality. It works just the opposite. Many drug users find the only way to relieve their guilt is to turn their backs on God. They go through a reasoning process something like this:
- If there is a God, I should do what He wants.
- But I want to do something He forbids.
- Therefore, I'll claim there must not be a God, or I'll conclude I can no longer serve Him because He certainly must hate me now.
Willful, repeated sinful behaviour can cement such fundamentally flawed logic – what the Bible calls a hardening of our hearts or being given over to "a depraved mind" (Romans 1:28). It's not that God wouldn't take us back. Instead, we have no desire to return. Without question, it's an enormous risk to take.
But is it wrong?
Doubtless, some will reply, "The Bible doesn't say anything about drugs, so get off my back!" But does Scripture's apparent silence might mean that some drug use is acceptable?
Drugs were virtually nonexistent during biblical times. Thus, substances such as LSD, marijuana, heroin, Ecstasy, cocaine, methamphetamine and any number of others aren't mentioned in Scripture. However, God makes it clear that He prohibits drunkenness (see Proverbs 23:20-21, 29-35; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 1 Peter 4:3).
The application to drugs is obvious: Substances that compromise our minds and bodies are out of bounds. Consider the following:
The Bible explicitly instructs us to refrain from getting high. Scripture specifically instructs us to avoid an induced buzz. For example, the apostle Paul writes, "Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit" (Ephesians 5:18). The reason Paul gives for this instruction is that it leads to indulging passions without restraint, a.k.a. debauchery. He contrasts drunkenness with being filled with the Holy Spirit of God. The principle behind the passage is simply this: Stay away from stuff that will confuse your thoughts, weaken your inhibitions and make you more vulnerable to sin. Can you think of a drug that doesn't do all those things? Whether depressant or stimulant, psychedelic or dissociative, legal or illegal, substances that mess with your mind get a poor rap in God's book: "In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper. Your eyes will see strange sights and your mind imagine confusing things" (Proverbs 23:32-33).
Our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. God instructs us to honor Him with our body. In 1 Corinthians 6, the apostle Paul condemns sexual immorality. He says, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We do not own ourselves. Ultimately, we belong to God. He lives inside of those who trust in Him and takes a dim view toward those who destroy His habitation – even if they do so in the name of pleasure.
Now, don't forget that God is not against pleasure. He wants us to enjoy life and have it to the full (John 10:10). But He knows that the "pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25) eventually take us further than we want to go and cost us more than we want to pay. Plus, no matter how good the trip, an artificial high never really gratifies. It's that way with drugs and all "enjoyable" sins: Their emptiness takes us away from true enjoyment in God. Jeremiah compared Israel's search for satisfaction in sin to broken cisterns, man-made reservoirs designed to store water. "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken Me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water" (Jeremiah 2:13).
We must avoid all types of wrong behaviours in order to grow. Drug use numbs our will to pursue God and His purposes for our lives. Paul repeatedly instructed his readers to be careful about the decisions they make. The passage immediately before his instruction not to get drunk reads, "Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord's will is" (Ephesians 5:15-17).
God wants our thought life under His control. Did you know that God cares what you think about? In fact, Paul goes so far as to describe a war waged all over the world, fought in part for your mind:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 10:3-5
The way we think is central to the way we live. How we think about drugs and how drugs make us think are both vital. A drug-fogged mind can keep us from properly seeing what's right and what's wrong in many situations.
The virtue of self-control is critical for a disciple of Christ. Self-control is one of the primary virtues of the Christian life. Christians are instructed to be in control of their decision-making processes and not enslaved to anything that erodes their ability to act in ways that are honouring to God. A clear mind – which is impossible under the influence of drugs – is crucial to self-control, which in turn affects our ability to grow as Christians.
God – not drugs – can be trusted to see us through the pain of life. Perhaps the only reason you're interested in drugs is that they seem to offer relief from pain. Maybe life isn't going the way you'd hoped. Maybe you've been abused. Maybe you've been rejected. Maybe you've been seriously disappointed by a boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe your parents divorced, and things are difficult. Wanting a reprieve is completely understandable. But some methods are definitely better than others.
Ponder this question: How do drugs really help? They may alter your perception of reality for a while, but they do nothing to change it. In fact, they only give you more problems in the end. Addiction. Isolation. Financial burden. More hurt piled on top of what was there before.
So, what can you do? Well, the first step is to trust in God. Sure, it's easier said than done, especially in the middle of crushing circumstances. But listen to what He says: "Can a mother forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands" (Is. 49:15-16, NKJV). Though parents might abandon their children, God will never leave His.
A second step is to take constructive action. Find an adult you trust. Talk with him or her about your situation. Confront what you've lost, and try to deal with the pain honestly. Try to find constructive activities you can use to get away from it all for a while. If you're having a hard time finding someone to talk to or just want some more information on what it means to find release from your pain, call Focus on the Family Canada at 1.800.661.9800.
There's nothing better in life than knowing God. For the apostle Paul, nothing – absolutely nothing – was a higher priority or greater joy than knowing Christ. Here's how he described it:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish. . . . I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings, becoming like Him in death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
– Philippians 3:7-8,10-11
Paul understood that nothing but knowing Christ would satisfy. For him, all other things were valueless in comparison to a deeper commitment to Jesus. Remember this: Jesus gave His life that anyone who believes might have eternal, abundant life, both on earth and after death. His desire is for you to embrace Him in faith. But drugs cripple your ability to do that, as well as rob you from the greatest delight you could ever experience. They offer only a counterfeit to abundant life in Christ.
The slippery slope
In addition to spiritual consequences, there are physical consequences. What happens when you ski down a steep slope and wipe out? By the time you stop you're a lot farther down the hill from where you fell. Momentum carries you along after the initial crash. Like wiping out, unwise decisions have a momentum of their own.
This is the slippery slope. From the top, it looks like a harmless evening of getting high with your friends. But you can't see how steep it is. You don't know how far or how fast it'll carry you. And what's more, you're skiing in the dark.
As someone slides down the hill of drug use, he tends to follow several stages:
- Experimental usage: Alcohol or drugs are tried for the first time, often fuelled by curiosity and/or motivated by peer pressure.
- Casual users: Casual users have decided they enjoy being high but limit their use. Often they use only on specific occasions.
- Regular users: When casual users become regular users, they can usually still function at work and school, but they are dangerously close to becoming chemically addicted. They may believe they can stop using but find themselves unable to do so for any significant period of time. People around them begin to notice signs of usage.
- Chemical addiction: In the final stage, addicts are compelled to use, not for pleasure's sake, but simply to feel normal. Those who reach this stage often deny the seriousness of the situation, even though friends, family and co-workers recognize the problem.2
One of the risks of casual usage is easy addiction. Some are going to get hooked from the first time. And no one knows ahead of time his susceptibility. The best way to prevent addiction is never to begin.
Maybe you've heard this one: "I'm not going to get addicted. I'm going to smoke a joint here and there, drop a little Ecstasy, kick back with some friends and have a beer." People may use all of these drugs recreationally and insist they're safe. But they ignore volumes of evidence to the contrary.
Going to pot
Recreation. The word conjures up images of football and baseball, going to the beach or catching a movie. Harmless stuff, right? Perhaps that's why users like to link it with their habit. But even marijuana, supposedly the "softest" of drugs, is more gamble than game.
Let's imagine a common "recreational" smoker. She lights up only on the weekends, at parties, maybe special occasions. "No big deal," you say. "If she wants to get high on the weekends it's her business. It won't affect her life anyway." Not so. THC, the active ingredient in the cocktail of chemicals that marijuana releases, stores itself in fatty tissues and hangs around for a while. Three or four days after that initial hit, the user is still affected to one degree or another, whether she knows it or not. Most don't. In fact, should our user choose to smoke one joint per week for the rest of her life, she'd be continually stoned until the moment she died.3
It would be bad enough if our "recreational" friend only had to deal with decreased motor skills, inhibited concentration, reduced memory, loss of coordination and uncontrollable attacks of "the munchies." But the hallucinogenic high of cannabis comes with another, less welcome side effect: psychological and physical addiction. The movement from casual, recreational use to hard core is often faster than expected. And hard-core users suffer from far more serious ailments. Chronic bronchitis. Damage to the immune system. Impotence. Personality disorders. Schizophrenia. Not to mention the law of "decreased marginal utility": What once sent you soaring will soon barely affect you.4
Let's face it. Though it's not heroin or crack, pot's still dangerous. There's nothing "recreational" about it. "Marijuana addicts, in particular, tend to believe that they must be 'OK' since there are much worse drugs, and other people whose lives are much worse off as a result of their using. That is denial."5
The Ecstasy and the agony
Hailed as a wonder drug, Ecstasy is said to offer everything from limitless energy to reduced social inhibitions – a virtual cure-all for the shy – to greater "spiritual" awareness. Like marijuana, its supporters claim few negative side effects and lots of positive ones. And it's increasing in popularity.6 So what's it all about?
Methylenedioxymethamphetamine, if you want to get technical, Ecstasy or XTC in pop usage, combines the dual effects of a relaxant and a stimulant. Especially popular at raves, it has stimulant qualities that allow ravers literally to dance the night away, gyrating for hours on end with a seemingly endless supply of energy. Also, users experience a sense of euphoria, sometimes so strong it sends them into howls. Sense of touch is accentuated as well, and with that comes increased emotional intensity. For good reason, Ecstasy sometimes goes under the title of the "hug drug" or "love drug."
Increased energy. Intense bliss. Affection without bounds. Could there be a downside to Ecstasy? You'd better believe it.
Former Maryland Lt. Governor Kathleen Kennedy Townsends says it straight: "Ecstasy does not free your mind. It burns your brain."7 She means that literally. As with any drug, you build up a tolerance to Ecstasy the more you use it. Regular users figure that more X can remedy the problem. What they get in return is trouble. Large amounts of Ecstasy cause temperature spikes into the 104 to 105 degree range, which can lead to death. Brain damage – particularly of the sections that control mood, sleep and sexual response – occurs as well.
Even so-called soft-core users are at risk. Don't start Xing if you want to keep your teeth: Users are prone to grind them uncontrollably.8 And the emotional effect of the drug turns any kind of decision making into a high-stakes gamble. One user recounts his Ecstasy experience when dancing with someone he had just met: "I had met this girl 15 minutes ago, and I was totally in love with her. . . . This drug opens you up so much that you can easily form deep emotional attachments to someone you don't even know. . . . I can see how it could be addictive." Plus, Xers are prone to post-E depression, the emotional undertow that seizes users in euphoria's wake, striking anywhere from one to four days after they dropped the drug and lasting as long as a week. One user's plea speaks volumes: "God, please help me! I'm so depressed, and I hate it! . . . The drastic change of utopia to rock-bottom depression is killing me!"
If you think the elation of Ecstasy is worth the risk, think again. With the side effects of scrambled judgment, deep depression, uncontrollable energy and impulses, fierce fevers and brain damage, Ecstasy will bring more agony than you might think.
The oldest drug
The most pervasive drug in society has been around longer than any of the others you've read about here so far. Even one of the Old Testament patriarchs stumbled because of it (Gen. 9:20-21). And it's the drug that, statistically speaking, you are most likely to use.9 You've probably guessed it by now.
Most people put intoxicating substances in two categories: drugs and alcohol. The first they see as deadly, the other not. Why? Well, alcohol is legal, and "drugs" are not. Second, in some ways, alcohol is not as instantly harmful as the previously mentioned drugs. Because it's not immediately mind-altering like marijuana, Ecstasy, meth, cocaine or heroin, it can be used responsibly when taken in small doses. That's why it's legal. But let's not forget that alcohol remains "a substance other than food intended to affect the structure or function of the body."10
Because of its status as one of the few non-medicinal and legally controlled substances, a lot of teens think they can handle an alcoholic high. But let's not forget the effects of beer, whiskey, coolers and wine: changed and impaired cognition, loss of concentration and coordination, slurred speech, unconsciousness and eventually cirrhosis of the liver, sexual dysfunction and chronic blood pressure problems.11 Also, alcohol is illegal for most teens. And there's good reason for it. Let's face it: Alcohol is a drug that scrambles one's mind and judgment, and its raw destructive power is often overlooked.
The weird and not-so-wonderful
While those drugs are among the most popular, they're far from the only ones out there. Tobacco use (smoking or chewing) often goes hand in hand with drinking. Some teens find "creative" uses for chemicals that were never intended to be ingested; others abuse prescription painkillers or drugs for psychological disorders, such as Ritalin. And some people look for "better" highs but instead slide into the vice-like grip of addiction to hard drugs such as cocaine, heroin or crack. Whatever the drug, the principle is clear: Specific effects may vary, but the end of all drug use is an altered state of mind; compromised physical, mental and spiritual health; and damaged relationships.
The friend dilemma
Maybe you don't use yourself. What about your friends? Your first response might be, "It's their business, not mine." It's hard to meddle in another person's life, especially if you have to tell him that he's doing something wrong. Plus, the fact that a friend's use doesn't directly affect you can only lessen your incentive. But take a moment to consider once again what drugs do.
What is your primary focus when taking drugs? Yourself. A person may want to get stoned or wired to escape life's problems or to fit in, or simply to enjoy the buzz. But all of these motivations are selfish. They don't move someone to care about others or to help him deal with life's problems. And as we already mentioned, a life of drug use often leads to a life of addiction. Users may spiral down into a waking nightmare of fear, hopelessness and a desperate need for the next high. While in that nightmare, you'd be amazed at the things they do – immoral, unethical and self-destructive things – just to feel normal for a while.
Now, no one is saying that confronting a self-destructive friend is easy. Far from it. But put yourself in your friend's shoes: If you were smoking, shooting and popping away your life, missing out on real joy and genuine relationships with people and God, would you want someone to confront you? Probably yes, no matter how angry you might be at the time. Yeah, it's hard. But saving a life is worth a measure of rejection and hurt.
Notice the use of the word confront. It's not enough simply to "be there" for them. While it seems to offer the option of doing something "constructive" without the possibility of painful repercussions, it fails to address the issue at hand. Both casual users and dope fiends live in denial of how deeply rooted their problems really are. Simple companionship won't convince them any differently. Practically speaking, being there doesn't mean much more than standing by and watching them self-destruct.
The 20 questions
How can you know if you or somebody you know is addicted? If someone answers "Yes" to at least five of the questions below, that person is more than likely an addict.
- Do you spend a great deal of time talking or thinking about getting high?
- Do you use alone or when no one else is using?
- Have you ever had a blackout or memory loss during or after use?
- Do you hoard or protect an extra supply to keep from running out?
- Do you need more and more of a substance to get high?
- Do you use more than originally planned?
- Do you use to escape from your problems?
- Do you do anything to get a large amount of substance into your body quickly?
- Is your use worrying or upsetting your family?
- Do you lose time at school or work due to use?
- Do you use first thing in the morning?
- Do you avoid people/places that do not condone your usage?
- Do you spend more money on substances than you can afford?
- Do you use one substance to offset the effects of another?
- Do you lie about how much you're using?
- Do you do things under the influence that you wouldn't do while sober?
- Do you think you need to be high to have a good time?
- Have you tried to control your use, but failed?
- Are you ashamed of your use?
- Have you watched your spiritual life decline or disintegrate because of use?
If you or someone you know is using, take the time to think about the questions above and answer them honestly.12
What can you do to make sure you stay C.L.E.A.N.? Check out this acrostic:
Call out: Don't hide your decision to be clean. Tell others about your stand, and confront your using friends about their problem.
Live loud: A life well-lived is a stronger argument for the truth than the loudest shouting match could ever be. Plan drug-free activities. Put your God-given talents to use and have fun with them. Most of all, through your attitude, actions and words, let others know that a drug-free life is more delightful than the greatest induced high.
Educate yourself enough: No matter how well you live, times will come when you'll need to give some answers for your actions. Know why you've chosen to live the way you do and why others should, too. Learn truth about substances, then learn how to refute the misleading statistics and false facts users will throw at you. Take time to teach others what you've learned about substances as well.
Anticipate adversity: Those who take a stand to stay clean will face adversity at some time. Peers may mock you. Friends may ignore your counsel and use anyway. You might even find yourself tempted to give in and start using. These things should be expected. Plan how you'll react to them.
Never give up: Perseverance is the final and most important part of staying clean. What if friends keep using? What if others don't listen? And let's be honest: What if you're one of those who – even with the best intentions – ends up using? No matter how bad your situation might get, you can always turn things around with enough effort and divine aid. So get on your knees and don't give up.
To use or not to use?
To put it simply, what you want to do with your life is up to you. This is what the drug dilemma comes down to: Is a temporary high and all its "benefits" worth the physical, mental, spiritual and social risks that follow?
Consider this: As Creator of everything, God's pretty smart. And He's got some principles that apply to the subject. Users admit to experiencing an ever-diminished high. Obviously, drugs offer no permanent pleasure. Meanwhile, God says that at His "right hand are pleasures forevermore" (Psalm 16:11, NKJV).
Think about it.
All scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.
- USA Weekend, Feb. 16-18, 1996.
- "Stages of Drug Use," Flipping the World: Drugs Through a Blue Lens, National Film Board of Canada, www.nfb.ca/E/4/films/flippingtheworld/stages.html.
- Melissa Fyfe, "Marijuana lingers longer, doctor warns casual users," www.theage.com.au/news/20000614/A5985-2000Jun13.html.
- See www.goingtopot.org/marijuana_short-term_effects.htm and www.goingtopot.org/marijuana_long-term_effects.htm.
- See www.marijuana-anonymous.org/Pages/loved.html.
- " 'Ecstasy' use rises sharply among teens in 2000," The University of Michigan News and Information Services, December 14, 2000.
- Julia Campbell, "Killer Club Drug: Florida Authorities Call Ecstasy-Like Drug Deadly," -abcnews.go.com/sections/us/DailyNews/ecstasy000929.html.
- Donna Leinwand, "The Lowdown on the Hippest Highs," USA Today, August 28, 2001, 6D.
- "Drug trends in 1999 among American teens are mixed," Monitoring the Future, University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research, December 17, 1999.
- Main entry for "drug," www.m-w.com.
- "Alcohol Effects In Action," www.users.zetnet.co.uk/sjohnson/alcoeff.htm and "Short and Long Term Effects of Alcohol," www.alcohol.vt.edu/Student/use/effects.htm.
- Addiction information: pages.prodigy.com/NY/alcoholism; www.siue.edu/~yhahm.
Bob Waliszewski, Loren Eaton and Adam Holz are writers for Focus on the Family in the U.S.
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