Seeking Shade, a monthly program for college-aged youth and young professionals, opened the new year with a well attended discussion on Addiction and Recovery despite stigma associated with a disease that has long plagued our community.
What is addiction? The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines addiction as, “a complex condition, a brain disease that is manifested by compulsive substance use despite harmful consequences.”
Generally speaking, addictions, regardless of the substance of choice, whether it be a stimulant such as nicotine or marijuana or a depressant such as alcohol, share common traits, specifically, tolerance and withdrawal. Tolerance means the more an individual has the more they need to feel the effects and withdrawal means if they do not have it they experience pain of some level depending on the substance.
So why does a human resort to abusing a substance?
All humans will inevitably experience some form of pain. It is the nature of the life of this world as Allah swt states:
أَحَسِبَ النّاسُ أَن يُترَكوا أَن يَقولوا آمَنّا وَهُم لا يُفتَنونَ
“Do the people think that they will be left to say, ‘We believe’ and they will not be tried?” [Al-‘Ankabut: 2]
Coping with the pain that comes with the trials and tribulations of this life is a test in itself. The addict experiences pain and turns to the drug of choice to self-medicate, or numb the pain, temporarily and in a very dangerous manner which leads to more pain and suffering. The individual attached to Allah turns to Allah swt to relieve the pain and places his hope and reliance on Him.
The types of addictive behavior and addictions are as numerous as the types of afflictions and trials we each face. One addiction many religious communities are particularly susceptible to is pornography due to the 5 A’s: it is Affordable, Accessible, Anonymous, Accepted, and Aggressive. It is affordable since it is free, it is accessible because it is a click away and portable, it is anonymous since it is easy to hide, it is accepted because pop culture refers to it as entertainment, and it is aggressive because unlike other drugs it does not have to be consumed or injected and the effect on the brain is immediate. It also has a physical and emotional component which leads to tolerance and dependence especially destructive to marital relationships.
In Surat Al-Jathiyah, Allah swt invites us to consider an individual who looks very much like an addict:
أَفَرَأَيتَ مَنِ اتَّخَذَ إِلٰهَهُ هَواهُ وَأَضَلَّهُ اللَّهُ عَلىٰ عِلمٍ وَخَتَمَ عَلىٰ سَمعِهِ وَقَلبِهِ وَجَعَلَ عَلىٰ بَصَرِهِ غِشاوَةً فَمَن يَهديهِ مِن بَعدِ اللَّهِ ۚ أَفَلا تَذَكَّرونَ
“Have you seen he who has taken as his god his [own] desire, and Allah has sent him astray knowingly and has set a seal upon his hearing and his heart and put over his vision a veil? So who will guide him after Allah? Then will you not be reminded?”[Al-Jathiyah: 23]
In this verse, Allah swt asks if we have seen a type of individual who is described as taking the innate need to attach to Allah, to deeply long connection with Him, and attach it instead to a base desire, هوى. It is no coincidence that Allah swt asks a question that most of us can answer ‘yes’ to since we have at some point seen someone like this. Consider a ‘drunk’ driver or a person who is ‘high’. In addition, individuals working in health-related fields can easily observe not only the physical characteristics associated with some types of addiction but also the distinctive thoughts and behaviors.
Allah swt informs us that after this individual chooses to take as his god his desire, his hearing, vision, and heart become sealed. Fascinatingly, people with substance use disorder have distorted thinking, behavior, and body functions. Their brain becomes rewired to crave the drug and trap the user to never stop using by impairing their judgement, decision making, learning, memory and actions.
فَمَن يَهديهِ مِن بَعدِ اللَّهِ
“Who can possibly bring this person to guidance after Allah?”
No one can except Allah. Once a person is addicted, the vicious cycle traps the individual in a manner that the only way to overcome it is to surrender oneself completely to Allah swt. Denial and repression are one of the hallmarks of addictive thinking. The addict rejects the signs of increasing use of the drug of choice and does not want to think about it which is the blindness Allah swt describes in the above verse. The addict avoids moments of openness and self-reflection like salat, for example, because that might bring the addiction into their awareness. Instead, the addict engages in activities that will occupy their attention to avoid accepting reality. If denial and repression fail, the addict will begin to rationalize making excuses and turning more and more to the drug of choice to relieve the tension and distress they experience.
Therefore, addiction is somewhat of a paradox. The addict initially chooses to do the addictive behavior which enslaves them to chains of their own making.
Addiction breeds within the addict an intense wanting and will but robs the addict of willpower and dignity, as Allah swt states:
وَلَو شِئنا لَرَفَعناهُ بِها وَلٰكِنَّهُ أَخلَدَ إِلَى الأَرضِ وَاتَّبَعَ هَواهُ ۚ فَمَثَلُهُ كَمَثَلِ الكَلبِ إِن تَحمِل عَلَيهِ يَلهَث أَو تَترُكهُ يَلهَث
“And if We had willed, we could have elevated him thereby, but he adhered [instead] to the earth and followed his own desire. So his example is like that of the dog: if you chase him, he pants, or if you leave him, he [still] pants.” [Al-A’raf: 176]
And the final paradox, is that within the affliction of addiction, a great ‘ibtilaa’, is a window that carries within it the potential to bring the addict to his knees in complete surrender to his Creator swt. If he chooses in his deep state of hopelessness and loneliness to submit to Allah, he can live a life of recovery basked in the shade of mercy and forgiveness. The recovering addict can become the greatest ta’ib.
قُل يا عِبادِيَ الَّذينَ أَسرَفوا عَلىٰ أَنفُسِهِم لا تَقنَطوا مِن رَحمَةِ اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغفِرُ الذُّنوبَ جَميعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الغَفورُ الرَّحيمُ
Say, “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” [Az-Zumar: 53]
Surat Al-Jathiyah which provided us with an accurate depiction of the addict literally means ‘The Kneeling’ referring to the Day of Resurrection when every community and every individual will kneel before their Creator awaiting their judgement. Some individuals, including addicts, might receive Allah swt mercy and experience ‘a kneeling’ before that day comes and true healing and recovery for theirselves and families. Once an individual is willing to submit to Allah swt, rehabilitation and therapy can serve as tools to support the individual to make meaningful changes.
May Allah swt grant our brothers and sisters challenged with addiction the strength to surrender to Allah swt and reach out for healthy ways to cope with pain and experience healing and recovery.
MEd Youth Development
MA Counseling Psychology, LPC