The Corrupting Pain Relief of Alcohol and Drugs

Returning to the story that we have boundaries to help us stay safe and flourish, consider the narrative of how leprosy destroys the boundaries of the human body as an illustration of how alcohol and other drugs corrupt the boundaries of the human soul.

Leprosy is a disease that is caused by bacilli that can be killed with antibiotics and is almost extinct in the modem world. In times before antibiotics were known, leprosy was feared by all cultures. The bacilli assault human nerves, often in a person's face and in extremities like the feet and hands. They are automatically attacked by the human immune system (like any germ) which causes swelling in the nerve cell. As some nerve cells die and others do not, the ability of the face and extremities to “feel” is altered. Dead nerve cells no longer carry the electrochemical signals for sensation and movement. The chain of sensation from the body to the brain is broken. A leper, who cannot feel pain in his hands, face or feet injures them over and over again. These are primary ways humans interact with the boundaries around us. The movement of fingers and toes is lost. They eventually decay and their usefulness is lost to the body, as ulcerated stumps, hand paralysis, and sometimes blindness.

Pain is a gift that humans often avoid with disastrous consequences. When pain warns us about dangerous or unpleasant things in our environment and we choose to ignore or gloss over them, we will eventually no longer perceive them as painful. Drugs and alcohol are used by some people to avoid the perception of pain. Just like the leper, lost perception eventually results in multiple injuries to us and others - emotional stumps, relationship paralysis and blindness to both the pain and pleasure of the real world. It is essential to accept painful stimuli of anger, sadness and fear as a useful tool for helping us predict the benefit or harm of present and future paths to choose outcomes of safe, joyful lives and relationships.

An individual's behavior of avoiding pain can be unlearned through the surgical ability of the truth in much the same way as leprous, paralyzed hands can be restored through surgery. But surgery is not always effective. Many hand surgeries fail because of resistance in the mind, not the injury site. The mind cannot easily trust signals that contradict its entire history, and a person will never adapt to painful stimuli unless he or she learns to overrule the sense of deception by reeducating the brain. As people get older, such reprogramming changes in the brain’s pathways become more and more difficult. It is essential to commit to the discovery of an accurate narrative that restores the boundaries of a peaceful soul in an often chaotic, dark, and painful world by first avoiding the corrupting pain relief of alcohol and drugs.


Dr. Paul Brand and Philip YanceyPain: The Gift Nobody Wants, p. 114,115,152,153, played a large role in the content of this blog.