Drug Addiction is a Catastrophe for Families

(photo: Baker131313, via Wikimedia Commons)

If you doubt that drug addiction is evil, consider what it does to love.

I’ve been dealing for years with the heartbreak and disaster of a beloved niece who suffers from cocaine and meth addiction. I’ve watched and suffered as the drugs destroyed her personality, health and sanity.

It’s as if the drugs were devils who consumed her. They disassembled her personality and shredded her rationality until there was nothing but rage and violence left behind.

Drugs eat the person alive, hollow them out and leave them as clanking and unworkable faux versions of themselves. Drugs degrade addicts in horrible ways. They do things to themselves and others that scar and mutilate them spiritually and morally, as well as physically. The worst of it is that drugs turn them sociopathic. They become manipulative, dishonest, and without conscience in their dealings with the people who love them.

No one can have a practicing drug addict in their life and stay sane and happy. You can’t help them. If you try, they will pull you into their insanity and destroy you, along with themselves. The choice inevitably becomes a choice to either cut all ties with the drug addict, or be destroyed by their addiction, along with them.

That’s why I said that drug addiction is evil. It destroys life, personality, morality and sanity. But its worst crime against the people it infects is that it turns love into a weakness and a weapon.

My way of dealing with my niece has been to try to help her, then, when that failed, to pull back from her and keep her at a remove from my life. I’ve done the expensive rehab, attended the family meetings. I’ve visited her in prison, gone before parole boards and made what turned out to be hollow promises of what she would do if they set her free.

I’ve also had to do the tough love thing and use the law to evict her from family property.

Nothing helps, not really.

Drug addiction turns love into a weapon. It forces family members to overcome their own loving instincts and go hard against their own child, niece, brother or parent. It puts people in the position of calling the police and filing charges against their own blood. Every step you take, every thing you do, is another knife stab to the heart. Tough love is tough for everyone. But with drug addiction, tough love is the only love you can have and survive.

I don’t see how a Synod that is dedicated to dealing with the proper pastoral responses to families caught in the crises of this modern world can possibly be complete unless it addresses the horror of drug addiction. Drug addiction grinds family love into shards of glass that gash the hearts of those who love the addict. It maims children and sets them on destructive life trajectories that maim their children and their children’s children as the generations move forward.

It simply is not enough to tell people to use their prudential judgment and then close the door. The Church needs to equip pastors to give moral and emotional guidance to those who must stand helpless witness as drug addiction destroys the people they love. People who are forced to act in ways that run opposite to their instincts toward the people who are dearest to them in life need help from their Church.

The decisions that drug addiction forces on family members scar the family members as well as the addict. They leave family members wracked with misery and moral searching. Those of us who have to make these decisions have the added burden of being our own moral guides as we go through it. We simply have to pray and hope that what we do is right. Because we are on our own with this, fumbling in blindness and pain toward what we hope is the right thing to do.

We do not even have reliable facts to guide us. The drug addict tells us so many lies that we have to take a guess and do our best based on what we think is true. The love we feel for this person is telling us to take them in our arms and hold them close, and we are being forced to shove them away and even use legal means to sever ties with them. If that’s not hell, then what is it?

Speaking for myself alone, I can say that I need more help from my Church. I need teaching that addresses the living hell of drug addiction from the perspective of those who love the addict. Drug addiction is a catastrophe for families. Without guidance from the Church, family members of drug addicts find themselves in the position of creating their own teaching, of interpreting Scripture and tradition for themselves as best they can.

I pray for my niece every day. If I try to help her, I enable her. If I take her to court, don’t answer her calls and ignore her pleas, I feel like a monster.

If you doubt that drug addiction is evil, consider what it does to love. 

Representing the Holy Spirit that descended “like a dove” and hovered over Jesus when he was baptized.

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