Merely mention the word “addict” and what image pops into the forefront of your mind? Maybe it’s a dirty and disheveled middle aged man loitering in a urine reeked alleyway, sipping from a crumpled sack covered bottle. Perhaps it’s a young female, who barely tips ninety pounds when soaking wet, with noticeable skin sores and rotting teeth! Or what about the geeky teenager who spends all day tucked away in his bedroom managing the multi-million dollar fortune that he has amassed in a virtual world on his computer? It’s no surprise that our mental pictures of an addict would differ. But who’s right? Well, in a way we all are.

Our society defines an addict as a person who is devoted to harmful behaviors (habits) in spite of the negative consequences. We usually think of an addict as someone who has become enslaved to a substance, such as alcohol, nicotine, and drugs. While these are probably the most widespread and notable substances of addiction in our country they are by no means the whole list. People can become addicted to overeating, gambling, sex, pornography, the internet, and on and on.

How should we feel about these people who are addicts? How can we respect or love them if they choose to remain chained to the monsters that are consuming them and also endangering the innocent lives around them? So we punish addicts. We lock them in prison. If they fail to reform we lock them up longer. We pass tougher laws with mandatory sentencing. We separate them from their families. We hire more law enforcement officers to round up more addicts off of the streets. When one prison fills we build a bigger one. We fire addicts from their jobs. And sometimes (which as physicians ourselves we’re embarrassed to admit) we give them lower quality healthcare, because we see them as an addict instead of a deserving person.

When we think about all the heartache and evil that is associated with addictions it becomes almost impossible to consider loving addicts. Our human nature fills us with righteous anger and we want to make “those addicts” pay for the pain and suffering they’ve caused, as well as the resources they’ve squandered.

But what if we looked at addicts and addictions from another perspective? What if we allowed ourselves to unashamedly feel love and compassion for these people? Are these evil people who enjoy their addictions and the ensuing chaos that surrounds them? Or, are these kind hearted people who have been burdened by an albatross of horror.

Here at the Mind Matters Clinic of Texas we deal with people struggling with addictions every single day of our practice. Most surprising to us is that there’s not one certain type of person who is at risk for an addiction. (Though we can often predict what type of person will be drawn to certain addictions.) Addictions don’t care if you’re intelligent, dumb, rich, poor, good looking, homely, male, female, white, black, or somewhere in between.

Some of the most creative people in the world have come to us for help with the addiction(s) they are battling. Just like us they want to live a good life. They desire happiness, satisfaction, joy, good sex, and good feelings. Paradoxically, their addiction is often the only source of good feeling in their life, but at the same time it has robbed them of most of their happiness and satisfaction.

When someone realizes he is entwined in the coils of an addiction and is ready to reach out for help what should he do? There are numerous types of treatment and support: A person can sober up on their own, get professional help, begin counseling, join social support groups, and even obtain medical treatment to help keep sober. These options run the gamut from free to thousands of dollars. Where to even start can be mind boggling! We’ve met numerous people in our years of treating and counseling patients who have spent a small fortune trying to help themselves or a loved one overcome an addiction with very little results, largely because they received poor counsel.

People with addictions are individuals with an individual problem. While addicts and addictions often share many things in common, they affect each person differently. Thus, there is no blueprint for treating everybody. What works for me might not work for you and vice versa. We want to enable you to help yourself, or a loved one, get the best help possible.