As long as there has been addiction to drugs and alcohol, there has been the assumption that the afflicted individual was a person of compromised morals. Because of this, society has largely placed the blame of addiction directly on the addicted individual.
The science of addiction has long concluded that addiction is a legitimate physical and mental disease, opposing the idea that addiction is caused by a lack of morals and values in an individual. Though society still holds on to this idea to some degree, science dismisses this as remnants of an outdated, religious-moral model.
The truth is, while a lack of morals is not to blame for our addictions, addictions are to blame for our compromise in morals. In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, this is discussed as incomprehensible demoralization. The Big Book further states, “We are convinced to a man that alcoholics of our type are in the grip of a progressive illness. Over any considerable period we get worse, never better.” (p. 30)
Masking the truth about our morals in addiction, the effect is mistaken as the cause. From the alcoholic or addict’s perspective, we are not immoral or valueless people. We cling tightly to our beliefs, though our illness assists us in maintaining some inconsistent, or perhaps even hypocritical behavior. This compromise leads us further down the dark path of addiction.
As our addiction trudges deeper into demoralizing territory, we lose our conscience. Though we may hold tightly to our original beliefs, our illness places priority on our addiction and obtaining our substance of choice. Our addiction then takes priority over what is right or wrong, and we justify our immoral behavior. Over time, the original morals and values of the addict decay, as such addiction is called a progressive illness.
There is hope, however. Eventually, an addict or alcoholic will “hit bottom”, a mental or emotional state where they are no longer willing to compromise. The individual feels that they cannot handle life getting any worse, or they are genuinely afraid of what will happen if they continue in their addiction. At this point, the individual is ready and willing to accept help. It is generally safe at this point to recommend treatment, 12-step meetings, or sober living.
Interventions have recently become a popular method of “raising the bottom” and preventing an individual from slipping any deeper into addiction and moral compromise. With the guidance of a trained and certified interventionist, the individual’s loved ones confront him or her in a loving, but firm fashion with the message that treatment is mandatory. An addict or alcoholic refuses to accept the consequences that their friends or family will impose should the individual’s addiction continue. While not always successful, interventions are typically a highly regarded method of convincing an individual that help is needed.
When an addict or alcoholic accepts help and whole-heartedly embraces recovery, they can lead normal successful lives. It is not uncommon for the dedicated individual to recover at a level above their pre-addiction state and continue to grow as they mature in their recovery. The once-held morals and values return as they embrace their new life. Relationships with family and friends are most often restored and new, healthy relationships begin. The recovering individual can be fully restored and live a long, healthy life.