New Hope For Aholics

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Addiction is an epidemic health problem in America. Of the hundreds of people every day who call 714-NEW-HOPE or for help, many have struggled with one addiction or another, or are in relationship with an addict. For instance, it is estimated from U.S. Census data that 12 million people (one in ten) suffer from alcoholism alone. Over time, if alcoholics don’t get help, the alcohol takes over their lives and destroys their health, well-being, jobs, and relationships. In fact, another 48-60 million people (four or five in ten) are negatively impacted through their relationship with an alcoholic. They may be abused or mistreated or find themselves taking responsibility for the alcoholic’s irresponsible behavior. As a case in point, more than 60% of the cases of reported child abuse and domestic violence involve the misuse of a drug like alcohol.

Many Addictions, Similar Problems

And alcoholism is just one addiction. Drug addiction, eating disorders, rage-aholism, and sexual addiction can be just as serious and devastating. Even workaholism, toxic religion, co-dependency, and other compulsive or destructive behavior patterns can be serious addictions. It’s safe to say that the odds are better than half that you or someone significant to you is an "aholic" of one kind or another. At the core of the problem for all "aholics" who struggle with addictive or compulsive behavior is a pattern of continually misusing something or someone in order to avoid emotional pain and difficulties. They are plagued with internal emptiness and continually try to fill the hole in their souls with their addiction. Of course, this only masks the real problem and makes things worse for the addict. Let me illustrate with a three brief case examples (names and identifying information have been changed):

  • Susan started abusing alcohol in high school to party with her friends and escape the depressing problems in her family. As she got older she relied on alcohol more and more to relax at parties, to wind down at the end of a hard day, to cope with pain, or to just check out when she was overwhelmed. To make matters worse, when she drank she seduced men in clubs and had sex with them. In her late twenties, as a young mother, she left her two children with her husband and went through a de-tox program to sober up and she spent a couple of months in AA. Then she stopped attending and slipped back into drinking, compulsive sex, and added an addiction to pain pills. She "hit bottom" after her husband divorced her. Then she got serious and accepted that she was an addict who was using alcohol, sex, and drugs to cover up her depression and needed to stick with abstinence and the 12 Steps.
  • Tim was a middle-aged workaholic. Twelve hour work days and working on weekends were routine for him and left him isolated from his family, but feeling like he’d accomplished significant things. "I provide a good living for my wife and children," he’d rationalize. He craved from other people the admiration and praise that he never got from his father. Predictably, his wife didn’t offer him much appreciation for his accomplishments, but nagged him to be more a part of things at home. Unfortunately, it took a heart attack for Tim to realize that he was a workaholic and needed help. Through therapy and his church recovery group he learned to re-direct his need for appreciation into his relationships and moderate his work hours.
  • Rachel was a bulimic, but you’d never know it. She was attractive and successful. Courted by some of the more esteemed men in her church singles group, an honors student at a private college, and a graphic design assistant for a cutting-edge company, she seemed to have everything going for her. But secretly, when she got home from a date, or after she talked to her mom on the phone, she’d do her thing: buy groceries, eat as much as she could hold, and then vomit it all out. It was the only way she knew how to deal with her feelings. When she felt inadequate, afraid of rejection, hurt, or angry, food was her comfort. Gradually, her food addiction took over her life until she couldn’t keep up her ideal image any longer. She broke down and told her secret to her pastor and he helped her get into a clinic and into therapy so she could rebuild her life.

Diagnosing "A-N A-D-D-I-C-T"

Susan, Tim, and Rachel were addicts. As is typically the case, they were able to hide their addictions from others at first. Fortunately, for them their stories have positive endings because they got the help they needed. It all began with admitting their addictions. Do you or someone you know have an addiction that needs to be addressed? To assess if a problem behavior pattern qualifies as an addiction I use the acronym: "AN ADDICT." If someone answers "yes" to at least four of the following eight questions in regards to a specific behavior then they probably have an addiction and need help:

  • Alone. Do you sometimes use the substance or activity alone?
  • Non-premeditated use. Do you sometimes do this without planning or intending to?
  • Amnesia. Have you ever lost recollection of a period of time during which you used this substance or activity?
  • Depend on the "high." Do you anticipate your next opportunity to do this?
  • Distracted. Are you distracted with thoughts of doing this?
  • Increased tolerance. Are you able to do more of this than most people? Do you have to use this substance or activity more and more to get the "high" you want?
  • Conceal supply. Do you hide this behavior or your access to it?
  • Tranquilizer. Do you do this to numb pain or avoid problems?
Help for "Aholics"

How did you score? How did the friend or family member you’re concerned about score? If you or someone you know is an "aholic" there is help. The key is to admit that you have a problem, that your addiction is having a destructive effect on you and other people close to you, and then to substitute your negative addiction with a positive one. This is what Alcoholics Anonymous and the other 12 Step programs do for addicts. The addicts in recovery learn to transfer their dependency from the drug or destructive behavior onto the "program." The program is helpful for many reasons; it provides support, accountability, structure, new learning about addiction and recovery, and modeling of healthy living from more mature members. For most addicts, 12-step recovery is the only path to sober living.

The best way for an addict to resolve the issues that caused the addiction in the first place is in psychotherapy. When underlying conflicts, emotional deficits, destructive patterns aren’t dealt with it is difficult for addicts to maintain their recovery and they are especially prone to relapse or switching addictions. The key to a full recovery is learning how to make use of caring relationships in order to receive caring, develop personal boundaries and relationship skills, and build self-esteem. So instead of drinking when he’s depressed the alcoholic in recovery learns to go to a meeting and/or talk to his therapist (or other support person); instead of "acting out" of his pain in unhealthy, destructive behavior, he learns to bring his pain into relationship in order to receive support and to gain new strength of character.

The 12 Steps

The 12 Steps provide a path for addicts to regain hope, one step at a time. Literally millions of addicts over the years have used the 12 Step recovery program to find God and a sense of community, and to regain sanity and control over their lives. Participants learn accountability for their behavior and receive support and encouragement from attending group meetings, reading 12 Step materials, completing each of the steps and related workbook exercises, and talking with a sponsor.

Consider the 12 Steps for "aholics" listed below. Note the corresponding passages of Scripture referenced for each step. The biblical foundation for the 12 Steps is clear when you read these passages and see that they teach the same principles of recovery and life-change.

  1. We admitted that we were powerless over _________ - that our lives had become unmanageable. (Romans 7:18)
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. (Philippians 2:13)
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him. (Romans 12:1)
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. (Lamentations 3:40)
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another person the exact nature of our wrongs. (James 5:16)
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. (James 4:10)
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. (1 John 1:19)
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. (Luke 6:31)
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. (Matthew 5:23-24)
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. (1 Corinthians 10:12)
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for the knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. (Colossians 3:16)
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to "aholics," and to practice these principles in all our affairs. (Galatians 6:1)

For a referral to a 12 Step group call (714) NEW HOPE or see "Referrals" on

By Dr. Bill Gaultiere

© 2002 Used by permission.