William C. Moyers


Copyright Creators Syndicate, Inc. For the benefit of alcoholics, addicts and those who care about them, please encourage your local paper to run "Beyond Addiction" by William C. Moyers. Available through Creators Syndicate.

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Beyond Addiction by William C. Moyers

Improving our understanding of alcohol and drug addiction

An Allergic Obsession

What follows first appeared about five years ago. I'm using it again in response to the proliferation of alarming experiences of readers tangled up in pain medications, especially people in recovery who suddenly find themselves fixated once again on the buzz despite a history of consequences.

You know you are allergic to cats if, after you let a friendly feline curl up on your lap while you stroke its fur and then rub your face with that hand, your eyes water, your nose runs and your skin swells or turns red.

An allergic reaction to alcohol or another drug can also manifest itself in unpleasant physical outcomes. But in describing alcoholism as an "allergy of the body," as many recovering alcoholics or addicts will attest, the true bench mark has more to do with longer-lasting negative consequences, such as drunken driving, broken homes and financial ruin. People allergic to cats can't touch them without having bad reactions. Similarly, people "allergic" to addictive substances shouldn't mess with those substances -- or else.

But therein lies the biggest difference between an allergy to a cat or a food or a plant and what happens to people who drink too much. Alcoholics don't learn their lesson when they come in contact with the substance, despite the bad outcomes. They keep patting it or playing with it, to the detriment of their own well-being and those around them. That's because alcohol is not only an allergy of the body but also an obsession of the mind.

I doubt anyone is obsessed with patting cats or sniffing flowers, especially people who are allergic to them.

Dear Mr. Moyers: I am starting on the road to recovery again after a relapse. I went into treatment almost two years ago. I was able to stay clean for eight months, until this recent road bump. I had an experience that I haven't heard or read about.

I was having a completely normal evening, when all of a sudden, I felt as if I had taken the pain pills I had been working so hard to avoid. It was so powerful I had to stop what I was doing and ask myself whether I had really taken anything. From that moment until I made the decision to use again, I could not stop thinking about pills. Is this normal? I have started to work hard again, but I must admit that I am scared that it will happen again. -- Ken G., Anniston, Ala.

Dear Ken: I laud you for not giving up and getting back into recovery. Because addiction is a chronic illness, relapse is not unusual, especially for people who are new in recovery. That phenomenon of craving and the obsession for a drink or a drug continues after the last time we get high. In fact, it is not unusual for people to suddenly and inexplicably feel the urge even years later. The obsessive craving blots out all memory of the despair and pain that drove us to our knees. It is so potent it can convince us that we will use "differently" next time in an effort to avoid repeating those consequences. But we repeat them just the same -- or worse -- if we get high. There are non-addictive anti-craving medications approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are being prescribed by doctors, and they can help. Aftercare programs offered by licensed treatment programs are available in your community. (Check with Bradford Health Services: http://bradfordhealth.com.) And there are always recovery meetings where you will find the fellowship of people like you, with an allergy of the body and an obsession of the mind, who discover the strength they need to stay clean and sober. You are not alone.

April 26, 2014

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. As the nation's leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive inpatient and outpatient treatment for adults and youth, the Foundation has 17 locations nationwide and collaborates with an expansive network throughout health care. With a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center, the Foundation today also encompasses a graduate school of addiction studies, a publishing division, an addiction research center, recovery advocacy and thought leadership, professional and medical education programs, school-based prevention resources and a specialized program for children who grow up in families with addiction.

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