Pair tries to help addicts, but differently

FAIRMONT — When people think of addiction, many think of the destruction. Broken families, broken health and lost job opportunities, leaving us at a loss on how to respond.

Rich Odom, chemical dependency assessor for Human Services of Faribault & Martin Counties, and John Schofield, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Granada and chaplain at the Martin County Jail, have different approaches to the issue, but both share a desire to help addicts and the lives they affect.

“From my perspective and a lot of the treatment world’s perspective, as well as academia, addiction is a disease,” Odom said. “It’s a chronic, progressive, relapsing brain disease, and as such it has similar relapse rates as do other chronic diseases as diabetes or cancer. It can be put into remission, but not cured.”

Schofield considers himself a former “drunkard” and takes a different view.

“My approach from a biblical perspective is that it’s not a disease, it’s a decision that people make,” he said. “I will agree that it acts like a disease once you’re in its clutches, but a biblical approach to dealing with it is not to focus on the symptoms but on the decision. God’s word calls the decision to abuse drugs and alcohol a sin, which is not politically correct but that’s the biblical or moral approach.

“The moral approach does offer hope that you can be free from addiction. For example, if you use me (as an example) as an abuser of alcohol, if I were to go to AA and introduce myself, I would introduce myself and say that I was a drunkard. I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic, the difference is that an alcoholic is the medical model and a drunkard is the moral model.”

Odom believes one of the big issues in helping addicts is getting them to acknowledge they have a problem.

“In Minnesota, the majority of people seeking treatment are not doing so by their own motivation,” he said. “They’re not doing so without a family member or a judge or a probation officer telling them they have to go do that. Basically, a very high percentage of people in treatment are coerced into treatment on several levels by the legal system, family or the mental health system.

Both men detailed the next steps an addict can take after they acknowledge the problem.

“Once someone acknowledges that there’s a problem, then there’s evidence-based practices that treatment uses, such as motivational enhancement, cognitive behavioral therapy, relapse prevention planning and skills and individualized treatment plans,” Odom said. “Not everybody is treated the same; addiction doesn’t play out exactly the same way in everybody, and neither does recovery.

“If addiction is mostly about broken relationships, then recovery is about mending those relationships and amending my thoughts and actions in those relationships. At the end of the day, people end up doing many things for their recovery such as going to AA or NA, working with a sponsor or mentor, developing a program of recovery actions, getting their mental health taken care of, getting themselves physically better with diet, exercise and sleeping well; these actions and others can lead to a recovery lifestyle.”

Schofield does not condemn the approach, but would advise people to consider both it and the spiritual model.

“To be drunk is to give your spirit over to another entity,” he said. “Whether I’m drunk on meth, alcohol, or other substances, is to lose control of your faculties and to be under the influence of another spirit. It’s not popular to call drunkenness sin, but the Bible does call it a sin because it is based on a decision that was made.

“A person has to choose, so I don’t bash the medical model, but I put it side by side with the spiritual model. Some people have found sobriety through perpetual meetings at AA, and it is possible to stop drinking or using through some treatment programs, but the moral or spiritual model says Jesus can set you free. It’s a free country and people can believe what they want, but I just put the medical model alongside what the Bible says, and the person has to choose.”

Another aspect is the families and friends of addicts who suffer. Often, anger is a secondary feeling that is covering the pain, fear, guilt and shame that comes with addiction and broken relationships.

“For addicts to come to the conclusion that there is a problem, they may have to wake up to their family, friends and co-workers being very hurt and angry,” Odom said. “What generally ends up getting addicts’ attention when they’re in active addiction is pain. The pain of their use is now greater than the relief that they get from their drug of choice; the pain of entering a lifestyle of sobriety becomes less than the pain of continued substance use.”

But while that pain may help spur addicts to address their problems, it can still linger for the people around them. Odom notes there is help for families, which can include faith-based groups.

“For family members, there’s something called Al-Anon, which is for the loved ones of addicts and alcoholics,” he said. “It is relatively easy to look at the addict and see they have a problem, but what is often unrealized is that the people who love them and live with them are also suffering. Al-Anon, counseling, communities of faith can all be helpful to the loved ones who may be struggling with their own pain, guilt, fears, and shame.”

Both Odom and Schofield seem to agree that, at the end of the day, addiction breaks relationships both earthly and spiritual. The key is getting addicts to acknowledge it, and then decide on a course of action to correct it.

“At the end of the day, recovery comes down to healed relationships with self and others,” Odom said. “If you were to talk to addicts in recovery, most would tell you the most helpful thing for addicts is to be of service to others. There seems to be some sort of spiritual physics in action; if we will try to truly be helpful to others, we hardly have to worry about being okay ourselves. Our service to other returns to us multiplied and amplified; this more than anything seems to ensure and enhance a person’s recovery and return to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.”

Schofield is grateful when people seek help and choose to recognize and take action on their addiction.

“I praise God for anyone who gets help under the medical model, it’s just that I don’t use that when I share with people. The spiritual model has power, Jesus said in John 8:36 that if the Son sets you free you shall be free indeed, and in my own experience I haven’t had a drink since I got saved. I made a different decision, I decided that what Jesus had for me was better than a life of debauchery and alcohol, and I would say I’m free.”