Christian Living

Family Matters 08/02/11

Treat the Underlying Problem, Not the Symptoms

Clicking through channels the other day, I heard various pundits talk about the debt ceiling crisis. One analogy really struck me. The commentator said the emerging deal was like giving methadone to a heroin addict. It paved the way for treatment, but didn’t really address the underlying problem. And if you do not address the underlying problem (in this case spending), the problem re-emerges. This is true in politics, but also in mental health.

When a family member has an addiction but refuses to address the underlying problems, the addiction does not go away. It may remit temporarily, but the same issues that led the person to escape and avoid through substances eventually return.

Yet, so many people who struggle with addiction do not want to address the underlying issues. Why? Because doing so often creates emotional pain and distress. When those negative feelings arise, the urge to self-medicate is intense. And unless the person develops new coping methods, embraces distress, and learns to tolerate it, he or she will return to the addiction.

Here is an example: An addict grows up in a family that is conflict avoidant. Every time he comes up against a conflict, he doesn’t know how to resolve it, becomes angry, and blames others. Since he lacks coping skills (problem-solving, negotiation, emotional regulation), he retreats to self-medication through the addiction. He wants to avoid the pain felt with the conflict.

Then, he feels bad and tries to stop using but doesn’t address his problems with conflict and anger. So he is clean for a few weeks, but life happens. Another conflict comes along. He gets angry and avoids the conflict, blaming others, and feeling like a victim. He uses. And the cycle repeats.

Thus, treating the addiction means facing those painful and difficult areas of your life. It is a choice to surrender to God, become an open book, and deal with underlying hurt and pain.

With Christ, you have the promise that God is with you through it all. When you lean on Him in order to face pain and tackle problems head on, you get at the root issues. God will help you build tolerance for distress and regulate powerful emotions. Most of all, He can heal those parts that you try to medicate. In your weakness, He is strong. His love and power enable you to face difficulty rather than escape and avoid through addiction.

So whether it is politics or addiction, getting at the root issues, acknowledging our weaknesses, and allowing God to work in and through us bring change that lasts. 


Dr. Linda Mintle is the author of I Love My Mother But... Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

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