The Gate of Hell: Prescription Drug Addiction

Through me you go to the grief wracked city;

Through me you go to everlasting pain;

Through me you go to pass among lost souls.

Dante Alighieri, Inferno: The Gate of Hell

 Timothy Dalrymple, who blogs at Philosophical Fragments, wrote a  compelling account of prescription drug addiction in a post titled (oddly enough) Overcoming Sex Addiction.

Tim says that “it would be hypocritical” for him to talk about addiction of any sort without also discussing his own addiction to prescription drugs. At that point, he veers away from the subject of sex addiction into a retelling of his own spiral into physical addiction to painkilling drugs as a result of the lifelong pain he must endure because of a broken neck.

I have family members who are drug addicts. I can sympathize easily with someone who is dealing with prescription drug addiction (or any other drug addiction) from the outside. I know what it’s like to watch someone you love destroy themselves with drugs and be helpless to stop them. I also know how it feels to watch the destruction of their once delightful personalities under the influence of drugs.

I can sympathize with family and friends of drug addicts. The drug addicts themselves, not so much.

Tim’s honest account of how the prospect of a lifetime of pain demoralizes while the steady infusion of addicting drugs into a person’s body and life grows an addiction that won’t be assuaged gave me a new and necessary perspective on my own family members who have lost the battle with addiction to prescription drugs. I sometimes almost forget that a lot of physical pain fueled the original drug-taking that led to the addiction. All I see is the ruined personality, the vacant shell of the individual I once talked to, laughed with and turned to for companionship.

Grief for the loss of the person you knew and loved is part of life for those who must live with the addicted living dead. It is even more acute when the drug addiction is a response to emotional rather than physical pain.

I think Tim’s article is well worth reading for anyone who loves someone who suffers from addiction. In truth, the addicted person is just the center of an ever-expanding circle of suffering that ripples out to parents, siblings, children, friends, and on into future generations.

I admire Timothy Dalrymple. Not many people have the grit to face their own addictions and do something about them. I respect the courage it took to write about it so honestly in this post. I encourage you to read it.

Timothy Dalrymple’s post says in part:

… It was not happenstance that I decided to teach a class on sin and addiction.  I became intensely interested in the topic for a very specific reason.

I have taken pain medications more or less constantly ever since I broke my neck in 1996.  Every day, I leave my house with a packet of pills in my pocket.  For the last six years, I’ve been on a medication that relieves my pain without causing any euphoria or craving — but that was not always the case.

To be clear, my medications have always been prescribed and supervised by a physician.  But that does not mean — does not mean at all — that I have not been addicted.  One of my doctors, in fact, was very clear with me: if I put you on this medicine for a long time, you will become addicted.  There’s no question about it.  We will just hope to control the addiction.

As though addictions can be controlled.  But what choice did I have?  If I did not take the pain medications, then I was in pain constantly.  Every hour of every day.  Around my two fused vertebrae, I have nerve damage, bulging discs, pinched nerves, traumatic arthritis.  What some people don’t appreciate about chronic pain is that the physical pain is one thing, but the psychological burden can be almost unbearable.  It’s a terrible thing to stare down the barrel of the rest of your life and know that it will rifled through with agony to the end.

So I went from Vicodin and Percocet to Methadone and Oxycontin.  I would be on a certain medicine for a while, my body would build a tolerance, I would need to raise the dosage, eventually the side effects would grow too significant, and we would switch to another medicine.  And the most dangerous of the drugs I utilized was, without a doubt, Oxycontin.

I took Oxycontin — and usually felt a “high” — three times a day, for years.  While I never ground and injected or snorted it, I learned that there were other ways to get it into your system more quickly, or ways to experience its effects more profoundly. (Read more here.)

Co-Dependent Nation: Living in I Can’t Say No Land

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Raise your hand if you have a family member or friend with drug or alcohol problems.

Are your hands at your side? If they are, think carefully.

What about that cousin no one talks about? You know the one; the family embarrassment that you haven’t seen for years but that you know is out there somewhere, tippling, shooting up, snorting or pill-popping their way to an early grave. What about your high school friend who started missing classes and ended up missing in action for life?

Now. I’ll ask again. Raise your hand if you have a family member or friend with drug or alcohol problems.

Ok. Has everybody got a hand in the air? Good. Now we can talk.

If everybody was honest, there were a lot of raised hands. There is a whole lot of drinking and drugging going on. That leads to the conclusion that there is probably an equal or even greater amount of codependence going on alongside it.

My untutored, unprofessional, entirely observational definition of codendence is that it is the fine art of making excuses for and buying into the lies of miscreants in such a way that you help them continue misbehaving. Meanwhile, you sacrifice yourself for them and their lies.

Codependence creates miserable people with no self-esteem. Codependents feel guilty about things other people do, look for happiness in all the wrong places and constantly try to rescue people who don’t want to be rescued. It doesn’t just apply to drinking, or even to drugs. You can be co-dependent about any kind of bad behavior out there.

Codependence has insinuated itself into the fabric of our society. Co-dependent standards have become our society’s measure for judging human behavior and even public policy. They determine our way of thinking, reacting, and interacting.

Codependence is not only allowed and encouraged, it is actually enforced through the unwritten rules of political correctness, phony tolerance and a self-conscious refusal to “judge,” which has become a block to using our higher thinking faculties when dealing with other people.

This ubiquitous societal codependence adds the burden of willful intellectual blindness to anyone who tries to help or heal the fallen people of this world. We become so confused that we don’t know and can’t react when people are using us and our kindness in a callous manner with no intention of reforming. We are prisoners of our own good intentions, unable to judge, discern, or react in intelligent ways. We can’t set limits, have been shorn of the language to express our concerns, and feel guilty about protecting ourselves from abuse and mistreatment. We are co-dependent.

Our whole society is co-dependent. It is so co-dependent that the only crime we consider really wrong is child molesting. All other crimes, including the most hideous rapes and murders, become, in our twisted reasoning, something we need to “understand” and which we say the victim themselves probably helped cause. We are so co-dependent that the only actions we are willing to condemn are failures to be co-dependent.

Pity the poor soul with the temerity to say that violations of moral law, of the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount, are sins, and that sin is the root cause of our social ills. The public shaming meted out to “intolerant religious fanatics” and “theists” who dare say things like this is equal to none other.

That’s why people who run helping ministries find themselves in a guilty conundrum over the resentment they rightfully feel about being used by the using users of our society. The moral half of their ministry has been taken from them by political correctness and our universal societal sickness of co-dependence. We need to help people who are caught in the consequences of their bad behavior, and we need to do it with love. There is no place in a Christian ministry for the condemnation of persons.

At the same time, we need to give ourselves the freedom to know and say that there was bad behavior and that sin is its root cause. Part of helping a person who is trapped in out of control behavior lies in helping them heal from the immediate physical and emotional damage they have inflicted on themselves. They’re down and they need help standing back up. 

The other part of helping them is to help them not do it again. That means telling them that what they did was wrong and, if they want a better life, they have to change. It means working with and not against the Holy Spirit in convicting them of their sins. It means not making excuses for them or letting them believe that sin plays no part in their actions. It means never explaining away the harm they’ve done or the debt they owe to try to make it right again.

Codependence enforcers are fond of quoting the words of Jesus to the woman taken in adultery, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” They use this verse as a club to guilt Christians into joining them on the co-dependent band wagon that masquerades as love and tolerance. What they leave out is that Jesus also said, “Go, and sin no more.” He didn’t stone the woman caught in adultery. He didn’t condemn her. In fact He expressly said that He didn’t condemn her. But He didn’t pretend that she hadn’t done anything wrong. He didn’t cite her poverty or even the rank misogyny of the men who were trying to stone her as excuses for what she had done. “Go. And sin no more.” he said. “Sin no more.”

People who want to misuse scripture to justify themselves often pull a verse out of context. The irony here is that many of the people who quote this particular verse in this particular fashion aren’t even Christians. They’re secularists, trying to bully Christians into accepting the rules of this world instead of the teachings of the Gospel. What they are asking Christians to do is to lie to people; to tell them that sin is not sin, wrong is ok, and that the harm they do to others is in some mysterious way the fault of the ones they have harmed. This is not love. It is also not ministry. It is societally enforced codependence.

If codependence is a sickness, then we are a very sick society. Forcing our minds to shear lose from our ability to see and discern, to evaluate and decide in this way does great damage to our ability to think coherently. It has, over time, left us at the mercy of the most obvious propaganda and lies. It makes us easy marks for demagogues and corrupt politics that would defraud us of all we have. 

“In an insane society, a sane man must appear insane.” That’s a quote from Mr Spock of Star Trek fame. Unfortunately for us, this is one time when science fiction speaks truth. Going against the co-dependent flow will make you the target of those who have an interest in the way things are. This is nothing new for true followers of Christ. We live in this world, but we do not follow it. We are part of this time and of this world. But we are not just that. We are also part of the Kingdom of God and while we live in this time, this epoch, we also live in eternity. Even though we live and work in the here and now, our membership in the Kingdom coming, our life in eternity, has and will always have, prior claim on us.

We are called to be the sane citizens in our insane society. Our yardstick for evaluating ourselves and other people must never be the fashionably codependent measure of relativism. We must live by the Gospels, which means that we obey the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.

We do it because God Himself told us to.


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