The Daily News By Peter Provet, Ph.D.
Major League Baseball has finally held Darryl Strawberry accountable for his cocaine abuse. While many applaud this decision, it is important to examine his drug abuse in the broader context of chronic addictions across all sectors of society.
The vast majority of New Yorkers, Yankee fans or not, can’t understand why a wealthy, talented sports star like Strawberry is unable to give up his self-destructive affair with drugs.
Obviously, there is no single, simple answer, but there are five fundamental lessons to glean from Strawberry’s experience – lessons that will help ordinary people as well as the rich and famous better understand the paradox of self-destructive behavior, the nature of drug addiction and the best way to treat it.
- More than anything else, drugs are used to self-medicate, to soothe emotional and, less often, physical pain. In essence, the addict is trying to hide from his internal distress, and denial is the primary psychological defense. Emotional turmoil that is not confronted and resolved, however, inevitably leads to relapse.
- Addiction is considered by many to be a chronically relapsing disorder. This notion was clearly described by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, who steadfastly defined addiction as a life-long disorder with no cure. From this perspective, relapse should be viewed not as a personal weakness of the individual, but as a fundamental aspect of the addiction. While relapse is predictable, it should not be condoned or tolerated without consequence. Successful treatment inoculates the addict and teaches him or her how best to avoid the pitfalls that typically lead to relapse, such as the people, places and things that were associated with addictive behavior.
- Because it takes a great deal of introspection for an addict to commit to a sober lifestyle, the length of treatment – whether outpatient or residential – must often be substantial, even a year or more. Short-term rehabs such as the 28-day programs Strawberry recently entered do not provide enough time for a troubled drug abuser to confront and overcome the underlying causes of addiction. Without meaningful after-care, such a program is inappropriate for those with long histories of abuse.
- Major life events – either positive (for example, marriage) or negative (for example, a medical illness like cancer) – increase stress and emotional turmoil and raise the likelihood of relapse. At such times, recovering drug abusers are at their most vulnerable and need to confront their addiction directly, perhaps with the help of counseling.
- Most addicts enter drug treatment because of external pressures such as a spouse threatening to leave, the risk of losing a job or legal coercion. Strong external demands are often needed to counter the drug abuser’s powerful need for immediate gratification.
Whatever gets the addict into drug treatment is fine. It’s the process of accepting help and making change once he or she is in treatment that’s going to determine a successful outcome. Self-examination is essential for the addict to develop the convictions that are necessary to stop ingrained patterns of self-abuse and choose a life of recovery – a life that includes responsibility, impulse control, hard work and compromise.
Strawberry has talent, fame and wealth. But drug abuse is a profound equalizer – it cuts across all social and cultural distinctions. Perhaps by reflecting on this extraordinary person’s all-too-ordinary struggle, we can learn the right lessons and further commit ourselves to the goal of a drug-free society.