I once chaired a discussion group that comprised a relatively large number of people who were heavy, hard-core addicts. All were heavily involved in the use of either cocaine or heroin. All of them were also in the very early stages of recovery, about one to two weeks of clean time after a period of withdrawal management. They all confessed that they were addicts. So, I proposed the challenge, “Will all addicts please stand up.” They all stood up. Then I asked, “Will all human beings please sit.” However, before they complied, I added, “But all addicts must remain standing.” This simple challenge actually introduced a tremendous amount of confusion. Some stayed standing. Others poised half-way between sitting and standing. Still others bobbed up and down. Then they revealed their confusion, “How can you ask that of us? We are addicts.” I corrected them by inviting them to consider themselves as human beings with an addiction. An addiction is a behaviour, an immature behaviour of indulgence in an easy-to-do activity, one that requires little rational input but offers the reward of temporary distraction from responsibility and participation in pleasure. Yes, this means there is a choice. But it is a choice with limited options. A woman who is about to be raped and who is given two choices, be raped or die, has a choice. But no matter what choice she will make, it will be a choice that will harm her. An addict makes a choice when the soul feels empty, to face the pain of the emptiness or to take off the edge with a familiar remedy. Neither is good, but one is worse.
I then explained my use of the term immaturity. When I was a child, I pooped in my pants. It was more comfortable to do it that way until I developed the maturity to use a potty (and then a toilet). Am I a reformed pant pooper? Or am I a human being who used the less mentally taxing option until I developed the maturity to do otherwise? Using is simply an attraction to an easily reached state of comfort when the more natural alternative is unattainable, difficult to reach, or undesirable. It is a state of emotional immaturity, but what is emotional maturity?
To demonstrate this, I asked them if they ever were so buzzed in their past that nothing around them mattered. They all responded, “Oh yeah, sure.” When I asked them to describe their feelings, some responded, “Oh, I felt like I was floating”, or “it was like being in the womb.” I then said, “No. Please look deeper. You cannot even feel your body. Nothing around you matters. I can explode an atomic bomb next to you and you won’t know.” They were silent for a moment. Then all of them, one by one, in a serious tone said, “I felt empty, lonely, scared.” My response was, “That is you. That is the soul. You are seeing the depth of your development. Now, suppose your body dies at that instant so that your connection with the challenges that stimulate soul is gone, do you see that this experience of being lonely, empty, scared can stay in your experience forever? Your addiction did not cause it. You are born empty, lonely, scared. That is the state of a baby. That is why a baby clings to the mother for comfort. If the mother rejects the baby, it can stay empty, lonely, scared. We have to learn to fill that emptiness. An addiction excuses us from that responsibility. That is all. It is easier to find the succor of a drug, an activity, or another person that temporarily soothes the feelings. But it also cheats you of the opportunity to build self.
Therefore, the real need in recovery is not just to remove the object of addiction. It is the need to discover self, build self, and learn to appreciate self as the soul that you are. More detail of this way of managing the need is offered at my website www.understandingchange.org.

Author's Bio: 

Dr. Albert de Goias is a physician licensed to practice in the province of Ontario, Canada. I became interested in the plight of the distressed person while in family practice on Ontario in 1978. At that time, I saw medical conditions that appeared suddenly, intensely, and without anatomical precedent. Research led me to recognize the impact of stress on the body's physiology and I published findings, first at symposia at university, and then in medical publications.
By the end of the eighties, I saw people who were going through a different sort of transition, that of being uprooted from war-torn countries, and lost in new surroundings without enough resources to cope. In the early nineties, I was involved in a different transition, that of people who had to face new responsibilities they recovered from a life of addiction. By accepting that these people simply lost or never developed the belief in themselves to manage rationally when life became tough, it was easy to show them how to build and draw from their most superior strength, that of creative intelligence and believe in that. It became easy and successful to get them to lift themselves out of a rut and take their place as mature members of their community.