He wanted God to cure him. He was a drug addict who’d dropped and popped and mainlined his way from the late nineties to the present day. He’d started with kindergarten cannabis and graduated from the university of smack.
Despite all this I’d managed to stabilise his life. A life that was littered with court dates and dead friends. But for one reason or another he’d been lured away from my care by the smooth promises of a faith-based detox.
“They stopped everything and then asked me to pray,” he said.
I’m sure he wasn’t just handed a copy of the King James Bible and told to get on with it. The group he’d joined was a brotherhood that afforded kinship and companionship; it was a commune that dressed up the idea of abstinence in the priestly garb of religion. He had hardly ever been to church and had never described himself as religious but the slow reduction of his Suboxone which I’d thought had been going so well just wasn’t quick enough for him. I’d misjudged his needs and he placed his health squarely in the hands of those who think faith is enough.
According to the group, which operates more like a sect than a treatment programme, addiction is so powerful and pervasive that you need to enlist an omnipotent, omnipresent being to help you kick the habit. And who better than God to do it?
He was told by the group leader that addiction wasn’t part of God’s plan, even though it was presumably God who designed the poppy and the mu opioid receptor. But now the believers opine, ‘heaven hates hash’.
He told me about his experience and their ‘thou shalt not’ mentality. Thou shalt not do drugs was preached each morning to the sweating, goose-fleshed congregation in the canteen. But they forgot to mention that thou shalt not succumb to a pinpoint-pupil overdose when you relapse.
Which is exactly what happened to my patient. Less than two weeks after leaving the brotherhood he’d relapsed and took a near fatal overdose of skin-popped heroin – the first time he’d injected for over two years. It was Narcan and not Deuteronomy that saved him then.
But couldn’t the work they do at the centre still happen without inviting God? Can we offer support and kinship without the cumbersome chattels of religion, without the canteen cathedrals, the propitiations and the prayer? Isn’t humanism enough? God doesn’t do smack, but do we need God to cure addiction?
It seems that my patient had replaced one crutch with another, swapping the crack pipe for a celestial despot. In order to truly shake off an addiction we need to break off the manacles of the mind, whatever form they take. Only when we are free to choose and live without fear are we truly saved.
Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen