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Monday, November 21, 2011

Antiochian Archdiocese makes a start

The Archdiocese has started an effort to address youth drinking (which it lumps in with smoking).  You can see the approach here:
The topic of ‘abuse’ is mentioned, but only briefly:
How abuse becomes addiction is not conceptually linked in these postings.
The difficulty for most youth workers in understanding addiction is that the children who need the most help are not going to come to their activities and fill out their surveys.  By the time full-blown alcoholism develops, the child has usually grown to an adult and long since left the church community.  In America, since we are a minority community and our people are scattered, that means the church can leave the problem to the world.
And, we do.  At least we do have good treatment outside the Church, but it is tragic that we are not equipping ourselves to handle these problems.  In essence, what this means is that the practical experience of Orthodox spirituality must be had outside the parish, diocese, or jurisdiction!
The Antiochian Archdiocese is following more along the lines of a ‘gateway’ approach, the logical assumption being that if children don’t try a substance, they can’t become addicted to it.  The argument also follows that these substances are harmful, addicted or not.  It is total abstinence approach, which is not unreasonable in many respects.
From the point of view of addictions, someone with a predisposition to addictive behavior can become addicted to just about anything.  For example, there are many alcoholics who can stop drinking for long periods, so long as they can engage in another ‘medicating’ behavior.  Many alcoholics report that even something as common as anger at someone can keep them sober even for years.  However, once the target of rage is removed, the old addiction returns.
The problem this model will struggle with is that the real danger of alcohol and drug use is in addiction, and addiction cannot be addressed simply by talking to young people in the parish once a week.  Alcoholism and addiction involve the entire family and the attitudes of the community.  Telling children that smoking is bad for them is not really going to do anything if the child has a predisposition to addiction.  The predispositions need to be addressed, and to do that the entire family needs to be involved.
Since most ‘Orthodox’ cultures frown on acknowledging personal problems, predisposition is usually ignored and goes untreated until the introduction of the substance and full development of the disease.  Not only the Antiochian Archdiocese, but all the jurisdictions, must work on changing the social culture of the membership.  Because American culture itself has largely made the jump, it is not as difficult as it looks.
An effective approach is giving voice to people in the Church who are in recovery, and allowing them to explain to their own community the great power of God they have experienced.  Sadly, more hierarchs and clergy are allergic to this idea than not, mostly because there is distrust of the laity enforced by years of dysfunction which make it such suspicion well-deserved: many laity believe that their lay status frees them from all moral obligations, and they take advantage of this by acting rudely and in a self-serving manner.
This paradigm, however, does not continue with recovering alcoholics and addicts: they understand that they themselves must bear the responsibility of living according to God’s will to the fullest and not excusing their bad behavior.  The essence of this is that the healing of entire communities can start with the clergy and hierarchy accepting and using those in recovery to ‘share the message’ with the flock of Christ.
We must expand our vision beyond targeting ‘kids’ and rather approach the entire family system.  While I do hope Fr. Joseph’s efforts bear fruit, I think we all know that this is only a small part of what must be done.
Getting back to the original subject: what is the difference between ‘abuse’ and ‘addiction.’  Many people can ‘abuse’ alcohol and drugs, but not become addicted.  For example, we all know heavy drinkers or ‘hard partiers’ who maintain good family relations, businesses, and can stop drinking with little effort.  They get drunk and ‘abuse’ by using immoderately, but can stop.
An addict can’t stop.
Abuse can lead to addiction, but addiction develops outside abuse.  It runs deeper.  Not every frat boy who parties his way through college for four years is going to be addict come graduation, and young people know this.  If you try this approach and say that abuse automatically leads to addiction, they will eventually reject the message because it fails the test of reality.
Abuse is bad because it is risky behavior, and addiction is just a small sliver of the other risks: accidents, violence, criminal behavior, etc.  But, what young people crave from the abuse is the ‘good feeling’ it brings.  What is this ‘good feeling?’  People in counseling must understand what it is and incorporate this message into what they are doing in order for the message to be useful.

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