The abuse of opioids, like other addictions, stems from a profound spiritual problem deep inside the souls of countless Americans. But when people turn to the sublimity of heavenly things, they acquire the ability to overcome their frenetic appetites and look for spiritual solutions…

opioidAn opioid crisis is devastating America. Every day, more than ninety Americans die by overdosing on these new killers. The crisis involves the misuse of and addiction to opioids such as prescription pain relievers, fentanyl and heroin. New powerful synthetic opioids have become especially deadly.

Too many people mistakenly reduce the problem to materialistic causes. They think that people abuse opioids because they are only looking for ways to manage pain. Others tie the abuse to being depressed by the sad state of their finances. Still others blame the big pharmaceutical companies for making prescription drugs that can be abused. Above all, they insist government must get involved with money and massive programs.

Such a perspective may address symptoms of the crisis but not the causes. The abuse of opioids, like other addictions, stems from a profound spiritual problem deep inside the souls of countless Americans. Opioids are only different by their frenetic nature, which makes them extremely self-destructive.

Opioid use can quickly degenerate into substance abuse that comes from a spiritual void inside the soul. A spiritual solution is then needed.

Understanding Spiritual Problems

Finding such solutions is very difficult because it goes against the conventional wisdom of the times. Most people work from a mindset that holds that people only have material needs. They do not recognize the fact that everyone has another side that is spiritual and superior.

This side has strong needs that must be satisfied as part of the experience of being human. This spiritual side is what makes every individual unique. It is the basis for human dignity. The interplay of this spiritual side in society is the foundation of political, culture, and religious activities that satisfy these spiritual needs.

Spiritual needs include the need for beauty, transcendence, and meaning, often addressed by the culture and faith. They can also be found in the human need to live in society as expressed in social order, contingency, and profound relationships like those of the family. Above all, spiritual needs are satisfied by the practice of religion by which people know, love, and serve God, Who is their final end.

Modern society does much to frustrate these spiritual needs. Individualism, for example, tends to isolate and turn people inward toward self. Materialism denies the spiritual and only concentrates on material comforts that can never satisfy. Secularism diminishes the spiritual appetites for God by dethroning Him from His central place in creation and society. When people cannot find spiritual fulfillment in modern society, they will often look for chemical substitutes or other ways to escape.

Processes of Decay

There are natural social mechanisms that help a person satisfy spiritual needs and face misfortune. The institutions of family, community, and faith, for example, help address these needs in the face of modern evils.

However, when these institutions break down, as they are now, people can suffer processes of decay that lead to self-destructive behaviors, which eventually result in the deaths of the tens of thousands who abuse opioids. When people’s lives fall apart, they can easily become self-absorbed and depressed. They lose the spiritual support of those who might help them.

When a man, for example, loses touch with his spiritual needs, he projects his spiritual desires upon material things. He becomes intensely attached to all things turned inward, to himself. He may still respect parts of the general order, but he gradually becomes incapable of admiring a higher order of things outside of self, especially those related to the good, true, and beautiful.

When this happens, the vice of intemperance takes hold in him because he only wants what feeds his ever-growing desires. Temperance is the virtue whereby man governs and moderates his natural appetites and passions in accordance with the norms prescribed by reason. In the case of this particular man, he gradually becomes incapable of loving the greater picture of all that is ordered by the norms of reason.

The Self-Destructive Appetites Against Order

This process creates a great imbalance in the soul. The intemperate man will thirst for risks, excitement, and adventures in an attempt to satisfy voracious appetites. However, he will find no tranquility since he seeks things outside what is reasonable. He alternates between exhilaration and breakdown in his futile quest for fulfillment. From a distaste for some aspects of order, he soon he develops a dislike for all order since it restrains him, and even a dislike for the idea of being since it defines him.

From desiring everything intensely, he comes to desire the destruction of the very habits and things that both stimulate and enslave him. From this, he plunges into chaos, sensuality, pride, despair, and addictions. It is not hard to see how the opioid crisis feeds into this self-destructive process since it often manifests itself in the breakdown of order around the person.

Why a Return to Order Is Needed

That is why order is so necessary to society. The preservation of a social order based on natural law is the only real solution that addresses the causes, and not the symptoms, of the opioid crisis.

Christian order gives rise to the temperate man that is so completely contrary to the dysfunctional one just described. A temperate man, for example, has a love for order and the institutions that maintain it. Inside the broad framework of family, community, and faith, he sees these social institutions as benevolent handrails to, not odious fetters depriving him of, his future. They facilitate freedom and enable people to unite together for the common good.

Thus the temperate man does not despise life’s regular daily routine that the other finds monotonous. He loves this serene order as a means for providing stability and control of the passions according to the norms prescribed by reason. The Christian family is a marvelous manifestation of this calm and stable order.

A temperate order is not limited to the love of routine and ordinary tasks. Rather, it uses the platform of a stable order as a runway for higher things. The temperate man also has appetites for extraordinary and adventurous endeavors. However, his extraordinary desires are proportional and reasonable. They are continuations of the normal desires and do not cause an abrupt rupture from order. Based on reality, not fantasy, they give origins to heroism and admirable deeds.

A Positive Action to Regenerate Order

That is why winning the Culture War is so important. It preserves the remnants of order that keep society from degenerating into frenetic intemperance. To the degree that order’s institutions are destroyed, society will lose its coherence and plunge into chaos.

While fighting to preserve the institutions of order is essential, it is not enough. A positive action to regenerate order is needed.

Spiritual needs must be directly addressed. Contrary to the present materialistic culture that dominates society, there is a need to return to a transcendental vision of reality that draws one to the good, true and beautiful, as ordered by the norms of reason.

Turning toward Heavenly Things

Of course, this has always been the role of the Church: to exhort the faithful to develop their tastes for heavenly things. She teaches them to pursue excellence, perfection, and sanctification in this life, as preparation for the joys of Heaven in the next. By imagining celestial splendors, it became possible to imitate them here on earth, giving rise to a rich culture full of marvelous things, ceremony, and liturgy.

When such a perspective prevails and is helped by grace, it creates the conditions for that Christian civilization that overcame the unbridled passions and turned whole peoples to the love of God and neighbor.

There is no one way to solve the opioid crisis. However, when people turn to the sublimity of heavenly things, they acquire the ability to overcome their frenetic appetites and look for spiritual solutions. One way to start solving the opioid crisis might be by reading a saint’s sermon on Heaven or by raising a truly Christian family.

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3 replies to this post
  1. But why don´t humans in other countries, that also have left spirituality/”traditional values”, show the same pattern of drug abuse? The scandinavian countries “lost religion” during the 1950s and replaced family with the welfare state during the 1960s. In value surveys such as GAL-TAN they are at the extreme of “modernism”. Still we can´t see the spike in opioid abuse repeated in scandinavia, or indeed anywhere on the planet (and the scandinavian suicide rate is a badly misinterpreted factoid).

    I agree on the opioid crisis having many causes, and that “lack of meaning of life” is one of them. But I doubt that more religion is the answer – just look at the murder rate between god-fearing US states and the de facto atheistic scandinavians.

  2. Scandinavian countries seem to have problems though different than the USA and other parts of Europe. Sweden evidently went through its own drug crisis in the 1930s and 1940s, when “pep pills” were rampant.
    “By 1943, 200,000 users were consuming 10 million pills a year.”
    “Unsurprisingly, the country with the highest rate of deaths by drug overdose is in Eastern Europe — Estonia, to be precise. Guess who is in second place? Norway. Oslo used to have a highly visible community of drug addicts — it still exists, but it’s been moved off the main streets.”
    Admittedly, Sweden seems to be doing better than most because of very strict drug laws which are enforced.

    The USA has serious drug problems because our borders are so porous, and the laws are not being enforced as they should be.

    The decline in a belief in God is a big problem in the USA and contributes to the drug problems. In the USA, people worship sports, rock n roll, pop starts, Hollywood stars, and other such things more than they worship God the Creator. As mentioned in the article, those sorts of things cannot provide anyone with what they need to function properly, so many turn to drugs as they provide a temporary euphoria, which unfortunately leads to addiction, and many other unfortunate things.

    Drugs are a two edged sword. When used properly they are a benefit. When used improperly they become a nightmare beyond belief.

    Without God, people become lost, and as they become lost, satan finds them and leads them into what seems like a good situation, only it turns out to be hell on earth. The consequences of these situations is what all nations of the world are dealing with to one extent or another.
    Let us hope that all can find their way back to God.

  3. Overall, a very good article that I agree with the premises. But an ordered, spiritual society does not have to be Christian. China is just not going to have the same opiate crisis even if the opiates come from there. 1) Their society remembers the opium wars where Christians brought narcotic addiction into China to balance trade. 2) they have exactly the sense of place, family, tradition, value of education, etc. etc. that the author is in favor of. An ostensibly atheistic society like China that does not have a similar narcotics problem is not at all counter to the author’s views.

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