By Richard P. Holm M.D.
This week, in our little town in South Dakota, a young man in his 20s came into my office weeping and scratching his arms and legs. I was expecting a rash-type problem, when he blurted out that he was injecting methamphetamine two to four times a day. “It has destroyed my life,” he said. “I used to have a job, insurance, a house, and a life. Now I have nothing. Please help me,” he cried. I referred him to a rehab center, but I don’t think he took the help and he failed to return to my next appointment.
By definition addiction is the state of physical or psychological dependence on a drug, which is liable to have a damaging effect. It’s a habit, a compulsion, or an obsession, which turns around and bites the user and everyone nearby. Alcoholism is the most pervasive and obvious addiction in our society. If it doesn’t directly affect you, most certainly it affects someone dear to you.
The potential for addiction is part of our collective human nature. I dare say that every one of us given just the right situation would be addicted to one drug or another, whether it be cigarettes, pain medicines, sleeping pills, marijuana, methamphetamine or a fine red wine.
What is it that separates the addict from normal happy people who are able to function in society? Some experts define addiction and, specifically, alcoholism with four features: craving, loss of control, physical dependence, and tolerance. Others add that addiction means losing perspective about what has value in life. Vision of the surrounding world dims, and instead the addict obsesses on self and how to get another shot, pill, snort, drag, or drink. Addiction accelerates like a maelstrom into such selfness until nothing else exists.
It makes sense then that the opportunity for recovery comes with the sacred message of the Golden Rule: treating others with compassion and fairness. Valuing others is the key ingredient in order to sober- up the self-absorbed addicted individual. It is no wonder spiritual based programs for sobriety are the most successful.
No question, we are all at risk for the selfish cycle of addiction, and our best help comes by relearning how to care for others.
Dr. Rick Holm wrote this Prairie Doc Perspective for “On Call®,” a weekly program where medical professionals discuss health concerns for the general public. “On Call®” is produced by the Healing Words Foundation in association with the South Dakota State University Journalism Department. “On Call®” airs Thursdays on South Dakota Public Broadcasting-Television at 7 p.m. Central, 6 p.m. Mountain. Visit us at OnCallTelevision.com.