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Causes of addiction and the spiritual aspects in addiction treatment

September 30, 2021

Our weekly webinars talk about various industry scenarios and challenges of rehabs across the country and the de-addiction and mental health challenges the mental health community faces and people in general. 

In the third webinar of a new 2021 series, we invited Mr Maria Joseph and KM Albert of Help Rehabilitation Center. The webinar was hosted by Ms Akansha – Assistant Project Manager of RehabPath, India, who was assisted by Ms Rajnandini – Editor of RehabPath, India and professional psychologist. 

In this webinar, our guests shared their views on the causes of addiction and relative spiritual aspects of addiction treatment. 

You can read the summary of the webinar below or you can watch it online here.

Rajnandini: Please tell us about you and Help Rehabilitation Center.

Joseph: I am the director of Help Foundation. I am a recovered alcoholic and an addict. When I was working for other rehab centres, I could not find satisfaction from their working models. It is when I decided to open my own facility in 2015 where I could offer all the services under a holistic treatment approach. Help Foundation has three rehab centres and one old-age home.

At Help Rehabilitation Centre, we offer treatment facilities like 12-Step Program, psychiatric and psychological intervention. 

Albert: I am a clinical psychologist. I have previously worked with different schools to treat children who suffered from behavioural issues. Now I work with Help Foundation and help people with addiction recover better. 

While analysing the patients of addiction, I realised they all have some character flaws that are not properly addressed. I am learning many new things as I navigate others towards recovery. However, I found a spiritual gap in patients that also has connections with their addiction and recovery. 

I believe spirituality is essential for recovery. As the doctor takes care of physical health and psychiatrist of mental, spirituality helps put a brake on drug consumption.

We all have character flaws like anger or behaviour issues. But I never caught up on drinking or using drugs because of my spirituality. Going by my character flaws, if this spiritual aspect was absent, I would be consuming substance right now.

Addiction is dissatisfaction with things whereas spirituality is questioning choices to realise if it is actually required. Spirituality gives true meaning to our lives and helps analyse our choices.

I enjoy the spiritual parts of all the processes that keep me at bay from addictions.

Rajnandini: Could you tell us more about how Help Rehabilitation was started?

Joseph: I was involved in 12-Step Programs at different centres wherein the message of recovery is carried throughout. During this process, I was involved with various treatment centres in Coimbatore about a decade ago. There were not many rehab centres that offered a holistic treatment approach rather followed only the clinical approach. All of the centres treated physical and mental health issues.

Because I was an alcoholic once, I knew first-hand how and what they feel. As Albert mentioned, there were spiritual gaps all over the place. Those gaps needed to be filled with something that gives meaning. And so, the Help Foundation was born.

After starting the facility, we addressed these gaps with adequate treatment processes and received a positive response from almost every patient. Our patients grew only through word of mouth so much so that we were not able to accommodate them in a single facility. Subsequently, the Helping Hands Deaddiction Center was started in Coimbatore. By the end of the second year, we had plans to expand more because the number of patients was not slowing down. We opened our third centre in a neighbourhood. 

In the meantime, we also opened our fourth facility as an old age home. These are our last five years.

The difference between us and other rehab facilities is that we are rigid in our processes. Unlike a defined routine or following a 12-Step Program, we start our day with different activities that reach a conclusion by the day ends. However, the 12-Step Program is emphasised for treatment. By the time our patient is ready to leave, he has completed the entire program within the facility that others may ask as a part of follow-ups. We also address the spiritual melody through our spiritual principles.

Not only this, we deal in four dimensions like total detox when the client is admitted that goes on for 5 days to 1 week at least. The next phase is psychiatric and psychological treatments. We have a 90-days program, including the follow-up program along with the family members. The treatment schedule is to finish the 12-Step Program within the facility. These are the processes we follow at our rehab centre.

Rajnandini: What do you think are the different causes of addiction?

Albert: I think the main causes of addiction are genetics, mental health issues or disorders, peer pressure and highly accessible drugs. Genetics is a major cause of addiction. 

Joseph: Every human being feels empty or a failure sometimes that needs to be addressed. To fill this gap, many people get themselves involved in sports, intense workouts, or social life. Others tend to fill this gap with substance use and feel better about their life. 

It deteriorates the organs of the person consuming a substance but only 2-5% of the people become addicted to it. My experience says there is no particular test to know potential addicts. It is only after a person consumes knows if they become an alcoholic/addict or not. As Albert said, addiction is nothing but asking for more.

Once they become addicted, cravings work as a time bomb for them to consume substances. If the person practices abstinence, the cravings tend to slow down at their pace and do not cause much physical harm.

The question is how to come out of it? Had this thought not crossed the patient’s mind, they would not have consumed substances in the first place. The majority of the problems lay with the mind rather than the body of an addict, which they can’t control and then never stop using alcohol or drugs. It generally slows down only when the person suffers from severe medical, personal, or financial conditions. When they stop consuming substances for a while and see the recovery, such patients tend to relapse. The thought of being able to get out of everything motivates them to relapse and continue the process. It is like a never ending loop.

Wherever we found this loop, we also found that the majority of the problems are caused because of emotional instability that can be addressed through a spiritual angle. Once this is addressed, the individual rarely indulges in drug or alcohol consumption. 

Rajnandini: There can be many reasons for developing an addiction but people also see it as a social or moral construct. What are your views on this?

Joseph: We are convinced that addiction is a disease like any other. We can not put it under moral or social defect. People with addiction come from all forms of financial and educational backgrounds. It also has to do with the lack of spirituality. Many people use alcohol and drugs with safety but it is not the same with everyone.

I believe 5% of addicts want to consume drugs or alcohol like the others but it becomes difficult for them to maintain the consumption levels or abstinence. Such people end up with more bodily harm than any other. I have seen alcoholics drink after 15 to 20 years. 

I have been abstinent for a long period and I am capable enough now to handle things better, including alcohol. When I talk about these people with addiction, I also relate to their problems. The thought of drinking socially or in private always wanders the back of their minds. 

It is just limited to addicts of substance but also with others like porn or sex addiction. To do away with such thoughts is where spirituality comes in. It is like if we have a fever, we will take medicine available for its cure and not body ache. Here I’m representing fever with spiritual melody. 

Rajnandini: Do you think there are specific types of individuals who can develop an addiction or is it common for all?

Joseph: There is no alcoholic in four generations of my family and I still do not understand how I became one. I have also found out during my journey that a majority of single parents are alcoholics or consume substances more than others. While there are many reasons for developing an addiction, vulnerability remains at the top. 

Albert: I became vulnerable to people’s opinions. When that happens, you can not concentrate on your studies or work. People exploit your vulnerability by labelling you. Just when I started accepting it, my spirituality pulled me out of it and I did not go deep into the addiction rabbit hole. People with addiction always have some gaps or wounds to fill within them. The surrounding environment helps in making or breaking the situation.

For childhood trauma or unhealed wounds, I take therapy sessions called the ‘Inner Child Killing’ process. Before reaching this stage, we did consider every type of therapy like CBT and EBT. In the early stages of treatment, we try to discover the root of the problem.

Rajnandini: Do you feel addiction can be prevented?

Joseph: When I was in the third standard, I used to inhale petrol fumes from my father’s bike’s fuel tank. Like everyone, I like the smell of petrol and it grew over time. In the 12-Step Program, we get to the roots of the addiction problem. I remember being in the third standard, inhaling the petrol fumes, and then blacking out for 5-10 seconds. I did not have any plans to get intoxicated but the entire situation was like a ‘feel good’ scenario for me.

I have always been a mischievous child and once I lit a rocket on a haystack. The same things happened in a different situation during my college days when I started drinking. Those days there were no use and throw tumblers that we could use to drink alcohol. People could identify from the smell of it that created friction between us people. On the final day of our college, we lit up our canteen. After that, my three friends were not allowed to write the final exams because of the incident. 

These are the situations leading to my addiction. Nothing started overnight. 

When I sit with other alcoholics today and ask them about their adolescent years, we can find addictive behavioural patterns. Everything starts at a young age and it is why education on drugs and addiction is essential at school levels. Otherwise, there is no way out of it or at least I did not know until I was 18 years old. I lost my youth to addiction.

We used to have moral science as a subject in school but now the education system has changed. It may help the children in their youth, especially if they have become addicted to substances at such a tender age. They must be aware of AA and NA like groups where they can find help. With all such resources, they can easily come out of addiction.

Although prevention must be started at an early age, you can not stop a person from getting addicted to a substance. You can help them to come out of it.

Rajnandini: Generally adolescents are not conscious about what the repercussions of their decision are going to be and one thing leads to another. Coming back to the treatment plan you spoke about, could you tell us in brief about your 12-Step Program?

Joseph: The first step is to accept the fact that you are an alcoholic or addict. The person must admit that they have cravings, then only spiritual and psychological aspects can be addressed. 

You alone can not fight addiction, you must believe that a higher power can give you the solution. The first step is acceptance of the disease and the second is to believe in the higher power. They also need to admit their sanity about alcohol. The third thing is to let the higher power direct his life and actions. It is done to address the spiritual angle.

I must clarify that by a higher power I do not mean god, it may be anyone like nature or a close deceased person. The fourth step onwards is about acting on different aspects of de-addiction. 

Every alcoholic has an inner voice that instigates them to drink more alcohol or consume other drugs. This journey is to find the higher power inside that can help you overcome this addiction. 

The fourth step in our program is to write down all your inconsistencies or flaws, including harm caused to others. The fifth step is to share your feelings or problems that may or may not break down your ego. Writing is hard because everything turns black and white on paper. It is hard to recall the past and harder to talk about it with others. The main purpose of this step is to deflate the ego. The higher power helps you get that anger or ego out of you. 

The next step is to seek help from a higher power. Remorse and guilt are also major causes of drinking. To address this, we make patients note down the names of people with whom they must make amends.

The next step is making amends. If we practice this, our will and that of God’s will be in the same place. We only act upon our instincts or thoughts with the help of our higher powers. The tenth to twelfth steps include maintaining the spiritual aspects through prayers and meditation.

It all comes with enough practice and can not be achieved overnight or in a few days. It is what we do at the Help Rahab where prayer and meditation are our biggest tools to develop a conscious contact. We pray to give our patients the strength to carry out their will to fight addiction. 

And finally, when we have the spiritual awakening, we see a clearer picture of our addictive patterns. Our senses like seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and feeling are essential for us. Our mind controls everything that fear can ruin. If we don’t have fear, we would never go back to drinking or using drugs. 

Even in my case, I pretended to be strong from outside but deep down I knew how scary everything was. Since I have awakened my spiritual self, I now know that fear is nothing but the absence of higher power that leads to a lack of courage to face my problems. 

Spiritual awakening is the first part of our 12-Step Program that is followed by carrying the message within ourselves as the next step towards recovery. 

Rajnandini: What happens if the spiritual aspect of the treatment is ignored?

Joseph: It is not a certification course that if you complete one thing, you are good to go. It requires practice even outside the centres where you live your normal life. Maintaining the spiritual aspects is crucial. If we miss a single step each day, we can be irritated or angry or have other behavioural issues that may or may not lead to our relapse of addiction. Anger is usually the consequence of irritation or cravings that an addict tries to fill with substances. A balance must be maintained. 

After discharge, our patients can still come and stay at our facility for two to three days if they feel not aligned with their spiritual selves. Our philosophy is to give a helping hand to everyone who asks for it. Our patients and their families thoroughly follow the 12-Step Program to get better. 

Alcohol or drug dependence is directly proportional to your emotional or physical health. The worse your health is, the worse your addiction becomes. The spiritual aspect is crucial to maintain abstinence. 

Rajnandini: Have you experienced difficulty with an atheist? How are the treatments modified in such cases?

Joseph: In the bible of Alcohol Anonymous (AA), there is a separate chapter for agnostics. Every person has a spiritual angle in their hearts that only some discover. The spiritual aspect is common for an atheist, agnostic, and believer. 

Rajnandini (Question from participant): There is a psychedelic drug called DMT, which is also referred to as the Spirit Molecule. It has been shown to affect a person’s mental health positively and gives a spiritual experience when consumed. Do you have any views on its use?

Joseph: For a recovering addict like myself, the base of addiction is when I bring a foreign element inside my body to experience an alternate reality or different experience. The effects may be adverse in such a case and I may get addicted to it. I won’t have those spiritual experiences for which I started consuming DMT in the first place. 

For instance, I think my stress will calm down if I smoke anything that is addictive. It can worsen the situation for me from where recovery is hard to come. Therefore, an external substance is not required to induce a spiritual aspect in me. 

Rajnandini (Question from participant): Is there any difference in addiction levels depending upon the geography?

Joseph: No. An alcoholic will drink irrespective of the weather or altitude. The only difference is the availability. If there is no alcohol shop nearby, the person will stay prepared in advance or try different methods to get the buzz. Whatever their geographical location be, the actual problem lies within themselves. 

Rajnandini: How do you deal with patients with addiction and OCD?

Joseph: It is where we get psychiatric help. We do not fully depend upon our spirituality, every treatment process goes hand-in-hand. The four dimensions including physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual must be addressed during the treatment. All addicts have psychological issues that need to be addressed.

Rajnandini (Question from participant): Are passionate and honest people more prone to addiction?

Joseph: All the alcoholics I have come across in my life to date have been intellectuals, educated, and talented. I even thought only these kinds of people become addicted to substances but it was not true. There has never been a connection between them. Anything can become a reason for developing an addiction.  

Rajnandini (Question from participant): Have you come across any addiction patients who have mania and depressions? How was the treatment experience?

Mr Joseph: Like OCD, mania, and bipolar issues, most are associated with their addiction problems and thus must be treated simultaneously. 

Akansha: Thank you Mr Joseph and Mr Albert for an insightful session on spirituality and addiction. Before concluding, would you like to share any message with us or our audience?

Albert: My message to all the people listening to us right now is always to be aware of your surroundings and habits. Stay close to your friends and family. Stay away from every kind of substance or get help if you have become addicted to one. Do not dwell on the past and enjoy your life to the fullest.

Joseph: Whatever the level of your addiction is today, you can come out of it easily if you get the right help. There is always help available to turn around in life.

If you have any other substance abuse problems, get help as fast as you can. Go to your nearest psychiatrist or a rehab centre and get the help you need. All the rehabilitation centres are open.

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