Tag Archives: addiction

Suicide epidemic driven by despair’s partner — loneliness

Contemporary America’s main problem has been defined by many as “addiction”: addiction to technology, to pain medication, or to the freedom of non-commitment. But these are only symptoms of a deeper root-cause.

The perils of misdiagnosis afflict many patients. An elderly gentleman comes in with stomach pain, only to be sent home with antacid medication and advice to avoid certain foods. After three months of persistent pain, weight loss, and fatigue, he is diagnosed with stage four colon cancer. For this gentleman, and for America, focusing on symptoms over root-cause can prove deadly.

Since the turn of the century, Americans have been suffering “Deaths of Despair” at an unprecedented rate. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for American teenagers and the tenth leading cause of death for Americans overall. Equally harrowing, drug overdose is the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of fifty.

While the statistics are daunting, the reality is devastating. In every age group, and across every geographic region, mothers are finding themselves childless, husbands are suddenly without a wife, and sisters are left without a brother. Americans are having less sex and fewer children (historically, signs of diminished hope), anger defines politics, and a silent feeling of dissatisfaction permeates American life. Although Americans are materially prosperous, our psychological and spiritual lives are in freefall.

The diagnosis: loneliness.

Just last week a young woman who intentionally severed her airway and spinal cord with an 8-inch kitchen knife saw me in the emergency room. She cited the isolation associated with caring for her ill grandmother, and the paucity of individuals with whom she could meaningfully discuss such challenges, as the drivers of her despair. Unfortunately, patients like her are far too common. Loneliness, like hers, is defined by an absence of meaningful relationships that now plagues 40% of all Americans.

What caused this loneliness? The answer is not as simple as “blame social media.” Technology is both symptom and cause — much like changes in religious participation, family structure, and the economy. The unifying theme, however, is that we no longer live in community.

Compared to 25 years ago, Americans spend half as much time at the dinner table and don’t invite neighbors over nearly as often. Participation in community organizations has plummeted. The resulting lack of connection and “social capital” is proving fatal.

The solution: be present.

Close your computer and engage your colleague while waiting for a meeting to start. Re-define “FaceTime” by opting for a shared coffee over a phone call. Check in on the widow down the street. Acknowledge the power, and importance, of civic involvement. Recognize the sacred space of the home by designating “tech-free” spaces. Reclaim the dinner table. In short, cultivate the virtues of selflessness and sacrifice

This unique American moment asks not for a call to arms, but for a call to neighborliness.

FRANCIE HART BROGHAMMER, MD is the chief psychiatry resident at UC Irvine Medical Center, doing clinical work and research examining the social, relational, and spiritual determinants of mental health. In addition to speaking nationwide on these topics, she serves as an American Psychiatric Association Leadership Fellow and is a member of the UC Irvine Medical Ethics Committee. Francie can be reached atfbrogham@uci.edu.

Preventing Opioid Abuse At Home

Here are some measures to help prevent opioid misuse and abuse in the home, according to the CDC:

Communicating with the doctor. Anyone requiring opioids should work with his physician to create a plan for managing pain. Options should be considered that do not involve opioids. Side effects or concerns should be discussed, with regular follow-up as directed.

Taking and storing opioids correctly. Directions should be followed; medication shouldn’t be taken in greater amounts or more frequently than directed. Opioids should not be mixed with alcohol, with other opioids, or with other medications including benzodiazepines (such as Xanax or Valium), muscle relaxants (such as Soma or Flexeril), or hypnotics (such as Ambien or Lunesta). Opioids should not be shared or sold. They should be stored in a secure place, out of reach of others – children, family, friends, and visitors included.

Disposing of unused opioids properly. At the end of treatment, unused opioids should be returned to a community drug take-back program or flushed down a toilet.

 Signaling help. If you know someone who needs help for a substance-use disorder, talk to a doctor or call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP.

What The Murdicks Want You To Know

Here are three main points Tim and Kim Murdick hope families will take away from their talks about opioid addiction:

Be informed. “Know healthy choices for what is put in your body. Ask questions.”


Be vigilant. “Don’t think it cannot happen to your family or your loved ones. It can happen to anyone at any point in their lives.”

Be hopeful. “Despite our story, we truly believe that there is hope, and that recovery is possible. There are people who want to help families who need it.”

A Tough Pill To Swallow

There’s an opioid addiction crisis nationwide, and it affects even the best of families. To swallow a tough pill here’s how it started and what we can do about it.

Sean Murdick of West Sand Lake, N.Y., was a co-captain of his high school football team who took a few classes at local colleges before finding work in construction. After he fell and broke his arm on the job, his doctor prescribed a 30-day supply of oxycodone to manage his pain.

His mother, Kim Murdick, didn’t think the opioid prescription was a good idea. Sean reassured her:

“Mom, I got this,” he said.

Before his prescription had run out, however, Sean was addicted. He began buying oxycodone on the street. Soon after, he switched to heroin, a cheaper and widely available alternative, to feed his addiction.

When his parents learned he was addicted, Sean asked for help. Tim and Kim Murdick checked out treatment centers for their son but found either that Sean didn’t meet admissions criteria or that insurance would not cover the cost. The Murdicks exhausted their savings as Sean went through several three- and five-day detox stays and intensive outpatient programs. Nevertheless, Sean repeatedly relapsed. At one point he described his opioid addiction as “this demon inside me.”

Sean finally was accepted to a Florida residential treatment center that helped him get clean. Six months later, struggling against relapse, he checked himself back in for a week of stabilization before returning to his sober home. Later that month, his roommates found him on the bathroom floor, dead from a heroin overdose. He was 22.

“We thought we did all of the right things,” Kim Murdick said. “We don’t expect that when you get a prescription for a broken arm that it’s going to end up with a drug addiction, but that’s what can happen.”


Sean’s tragedy illustrates the crisis of opioid addiction in America, which has seen overdose deaths rise from 8,048 in 1999 to 47,600 in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Often addiction has developed from the use of opioids prescribed by doctors as painkillers.

Opiates like morphine and codeine derive from opium, while opioids like hydrocodone and oxycodone are synthetic or semi-synthetic drugs that mimic the pain-reducing properties of opiates. Morphine was used as a battlefield anesthetic during the Civil War to treat wounded soldiers, but many became addicted. In 1898, Bayer began commercial production of heroin, which is synthesized from morphine as a supposedly less-addictive alternative. By 1924 all narcotics required a doctor’s prescription, and the sale or production of heroin was outlawed.

In 1980, the New England Journal of Medicine published a 101-word letter to the editor describing a very narrow hospital study that found addiction to be “rare” among medical patients treated with narcotics for acute pain who had no prior history of addiction. Other researchers and journals began citing that study out of context, and by the mid1990s pharmaceutical companies like Purdue Pharma, makers of Oxycontin, began aggressively promoting opioids to doctors with the assurance they were not addictive to patients.

Prescribing opioids for home use or to manage chronic pain, however, opened avenues for misuse and abuse. So as prescriptions for opioids skyrocketed, so did addiction rates and deaths.

Heroin sparked a second wave of overdose deaths beginning in 2010, and illicitly produced fentanyl – often laced into other drugs and 80 to 100 times more potent than morphine – initiated another deadly spike in 2013.

Drug manufacturers and suppliers now face major lawsuits for their role in the opioid epidemic as state and local governments seek compensation for the cost of responding to the crisis. Doctors have been accused of overprescribing, and many patients have admitted to using opioids irresponsibly; in 2016, more than 11.5 million Americans reported misusing prescription opioids in the past year. There’s enough blame to go around.

“In the beginning, there was certainly the emphasis on treating not only acute but chronic pain with opioids, leading to increased marketing, production, and prescriptions of opiates,” said Dr. Cynthia Hunt, chair of the National Opiate Task Force for the Catholic Medical Association (CMA). Pain came to be seen as a “fifth vital sign,” and physicians were required to receive continuing medical education in pain management. “Unfortunately there was a definite misunderstanding about the addictive nature of opioids.”

Another contributing cause is a trend in “self-medicating” not only physical pain but emotional and spiritual pain as well, Hunt added. “There is widespread abuse, trauma, and neglect that individuals suffer which contribute to the desire to ‘numb’ oneself.”

Other gateways to opioid addiction in addition to prescription drugs exist, and most individuals who are treated for acute or post-surgical pain with opioids do not become addicted, she noted.

But as the Murdicks found, securing help for someone with opioid addiction can be difficult.

“When someone has a substance use disorder, very often they are resistant to recognizing, seeking, and accepting help,” Kim said. “Yet far too often when the person has recognized that they want help and are willing to go into a treatment facility, there are so many barriers that treatment isn’t always available. That was the case with our Sean.”


Lawmakers and government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels have taken steps to address the opioid crisis and make treatment more available. Churches and other nonprofits have taken the lead as well. Catholic Charities agencies are tackling the epidemic as are many Catholic hospitals and ministries.

Last summer, Bishop Edward C. Malesic of Greensburg, PA issued a pastoral letter outlining a 14-point action plan for responding to the opioid crisis in a holistic way. He called for the diocese, its parishes, and the faithful to work with existing health care facilities and social service agencies to address the problem. He also stressed the importance of prevention and education — as well as prayer.

The CMA’s Opiate Task Force that Dr. Hunt leads was formed eight months ago to educate Catholic leaders about the struggles of addiction, to bring together existing treatment centers regionally, and to strengthen the faith-based approach to healing of the whole person. It has identified several pilot dioceses to help identify models for “best practices” for facilitating biological, psychological, social, and spiritual healing.

“Spiritually, we are a wounded society, and addiction is part of this spiritual malady,” Hunt said. “Most deep healing will arise with spiritual means, surrendering to God our entire being including our brokenness.” She cited “primarily spiritual” 12-step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous as successful examples of this holistic approach.

“To the extent that suffering can be relieved without harm to an individual, that should be our goal,” she explained. However, “with Jesus, suffering can be redemptive and can actually bring us closer to God, in union with Our Lord on the Cross.”


Out of their grief, the Murdicks founded NO piates, a nonprofit organization that seeks to raise awareness about opioid addiction and advocate for solutions. They share their story of Sean with other families, young people, and decision makers.

“We are seeking access to housing, employment support, addiction treatment, and community-based recovery supports,” Kim said. “Progress has been made regarding the treatments for those who suffer with the disease of addiction, but there is so much more that needs to be done.”

Some of the progress includes hospitals that offer detox and medical stabilization services to assist with physical withdrawals, as well as increased recognition of the value of peer-supported recovery. “It’s no longer a one-size-fits-all recovery,” she said.

Many people still need to understand that addiction is a disease and not a moral failing. “Shame and stigma are still deeply rooted in the disease of addiction for those who suffer from substance use disorders and those who love them,” cautioned Kim.

Dr. Hunt agreed that society must overcome the stigma of addiction so that those affected can be open to the professional help they need.

“If addiction is suspected in oneself or a loved one, it is so important to name it, ‘destigmatize it,’ recognize it as an illness — biologically, psychologically, and spiritually — and obtain help in a holistic manner as soon as possible,” she said.

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff write

The Longtime Low From Living High

In cities and suburbs across the country, recreational marijuana shops are mushrooming in strip malls and commercial downtown districts.

An adult can walk into one of those stores and legally purchase several different varieties of marijuana and edibles such as cookies and brownies, all formulated to get the consumer high.

No harmless indulgence

“It’s a pursuit of pleasure that has nothing to do with God. It’s a purely hedonistic experience that one is searching for,” said Dr. Jeff Berger, the medical director for Guest House, a rehabilitation center in Michigan for priests who suffer from alcoholism and other addictions.

Berger, who is also a member of the Catholic Medical Association, has been treating addicts for 34 years. Marijuana, he warned, is not the harmless substance that pro-cannabis advocates have been claiming it is in their drive to legalize pot in the states.

“Seventeen percent of those who begin marijuana use in adolescence will become addicted to the drug,” Berger said. “And of those who are daily users, 25 to 50 percent of those will become addicted to the drug.”

Those statistics are backed by a 2014 study in The New England Journal of Medicine which also found evidence that frequent marijuana use is linked to cognitive impairment and an average IQ drop of about ten points.

“Interestingly enough, there is a diminished life satisfaction achievement,” Berger said. “People who were queried after several years of marijuana use are more likely to have dropped out of school, generally have lower incomes, and are more likely to be on welfare and unemployed.”

Steve Bozza, a moral theologian and bioethicist who serves as the director of Family Ministries for the Diocese of Camden, New Jersey, said the research also indicates that marijuana, despite assertions to the contrary, does serve for many people as a gateway drug to harder narcotics such as heroin and cocaine.

“It’s not harmless,” said Bozza, who also recently co-authored an article with Berger on the morality of municipalities creating “safe injection sites” where addicts can obtain clean needles to shoot up heroin.

In recent years, at least 10 states, including the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana, while 33 states allow for medical marijuana.

 Under-realized dangers – health and moral

Pro-cannabis advocates, who are well-funded and well-organized, have used several arguments to convince state legislatures and voters in referendums to legalize recreational marijuana. In addition to arguing that prohibition has failed to stop people from smoking weed and has led to countless nonviolent offenders to be imprisoned, advocates say marijuana is a harmless drug that is no more dangerous than caffeine or alcohol.

Not true, said Berger and Bozza.

“You can use alcohol without becoming intoxicated,” Berger said. “But the whole purpose of using marijuana is to get intoxicated. That’s a critical difference.”

“The only reason why someone smokes marijuana is to get high,” Bozza added. “That changes the whole dynamic.”

There is no defined, specific Catholic teaching on cannabis. But Scripture, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and Church documents condemn drunkenness and recreational drug use that impair the mind and body. The Catechism describes the use of drugs, except on strictly therapeutic grounds, as a grave offense (#2291)

With those principles in mind, the nation’s Catholic bishops have frequently spoken out against marijuana-related ballot measures in the states.

“When you’re high on drugs, you lose autonomy. You lose your ability to make proper decisions based on reason and freedom of choice. It puts you in slavery,” said Bozza, adding that smoking marijuana to get high is contrary to human dignity

“Therefore, we have moral issues with that,” Bozza said.

High potential for abuse, addiction

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance, along with other drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. That classification indicates the federal government considers marijuana to have a high potential for abuse.

“If you’re smoking cannabis regularly, you’re likely to have withdrawals when you stop,” Berger said. “Some of the symptoms might be irritability, aggression, anger, restlessness, and insomnia. The more marijuana you’ve been smoking, the worse the withdrawal symptoms are going to be.”

While marijuana is composed of more than 80 chemical compounds, THC is the chemical that creates the euphoria, “the high,” while also at times inducing hallucinations and delusions. Berger said THC is the chemical in marijuana that causes addiction.

“When they think of marijuana, a lot of older people think of the pot from the 1960s and 1970s,” said Berger, who added that the marijuana of decades past had a THC level of about 4 percent. Marijuana today has a THC level around 30 percent.

“It is much more potent now,” Berger said.

That potency may explain the evidence of modern marijuana’s addictive quality. A 2012 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported that 4.3 million Americans have “marijuana dependence.” Many of those respondents were adolescents

Other studies found that slightly more than a third of American high school seniors in 2013 reported using marijuana. The 2014 study in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that roughly 17 percent of teenagers who smoke pot regularly become addicted.

“The disease of addiction is deadly and produces significant suffering or death to the individual and the individual’s loved ones,” Berger said. “The studies are very clear that not only is marijuana addictive in and of itself, but desensitizes the brain to more harmful substances.”

On the medical front, marijuana contains a chemical known as cannabidiol, also known as CBD, that appears to have therapeutic qualities that can be used to treat a variety of maladies to include bipolar disorder and epilepsy, while also relieving nausea in chemotherapy patients.

However, Berger warned that the data on medical marijuana is still not yet complete.

 No FDA regulations

“If this were a drug being approved through the regular system, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration would require some additional proof that the negative effects of regular marijuana use were not happening,” Berger said, adding that there are also concerns about how regular use of medical marijuana may affect pregnant women and their unborn children.

“With medical marijuana, there are no FDA regulations,” Berger said. “You don’t know how pure it is. You don’t know what the potency is. You don’t know whether pesticides were applied to it. You don’t know if anything else was added to it.”

Threshold of epidemic

Berger said the evidence also shows marijuana addiction is linked to higher risks of impaired short-term memory, difficulty retaining information, and impaired coordination that interferes with driving skills, which increases the risk of injury and death.

The push to legalize marijuana is occurring while hundreds of thousands of Americans across socioeconomic lines are overdosing and dying from opioids like heroin and fentanyl. Just as the national opioid crisis is ravaging communities across the country, Berger is concerned that another public health disaster is brewing.

“At this point,” Berger said, “We are at the beginning of an epidemic.”

BRIAN FRAGA is a Legatus magazine staff writer.

Marijuana – why bother going to pot?

Rebekah (not her real name) was admitted into drug rehab, not her first time around the block. She was typical of over half the patients I saw that day, typical of any treatment center across the nation. The common denominator? Smoking marijuana was her first experience of intoxication.

Marijuana contains two major substances. One is delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the substance responsible for the “high.” It causes most of the adverse effects of marijuana: elevated heart rate and blood pressure, distortions in time perception, anxiety, psychosis, and addiction. Along with alcohol and other potentially addicting substances, THC is a “false messenger,” signaling the brain that something wonderful has happened when, in fact, the only “wonderful thing” has been a fleeting experience of something much less than God. It is also a “virus,” taking control of the parts of the brain that process experience, plan, and strategize for the future. In vulnerable people, there follows a steady progression from pleasure or relief of suffering, to addiction.

The second major substance in marijuana is cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is responsible for many of the medicinal effects of marijuana such as: lowering of the blood pressure and heart rate, reductions in anxiety, anti-seizure effect, and protection from psychosis. (The FDA recently approved a pharmaceutical preparation of CBD (without THC) for use in some seizure disorders.) CBD is not part of the marijuana “high,” and does not produce addiction. In fact, CBD protects against many of the adverse effects of THC, possibly including addiction.

Time marches on and marijuana in the U.S. today is quite different than what was used by “flower children” of the past. Marijuana is now an $11 billion industry and, perhaps in response to industry pressures, the THC content of today’s marijuana has increased significantly. In 1995, THC content was approximately 4%. In 2014, THC content was approximately 14%, a more than three-fold increase from 1995. In contrast, from 1995 to 2014, the CBD content of marijuana decreased by more than 50%. This means marijuana today is a more potent psychoactive substance, containing less of the protective CBD. It’s a small wonder that emergency room visits due to marijuana increased by 50 percent between 2004 and 2011. Studies also show that adolescents using marijuana show impaired IQ, less satisfaction with life as adults, and 16 percent of them become addicted to it.

Rebekah’s childhood was long on suffering and short on supervision, important risk factors in developing addiction. In high school she experimented with alcohol and tobacco. Then came Xanax and concentrated marijuana (hash oil). By age 22, she was using cocaine and at age 23, heroin along with the cocaine. At age 24, Rebekah has survived (four people die every hour in the United States of a drug overdose) without a major health complication. She is hoping for long-term treatment, her best chance for recovery, and a brighter future. May God be with her.


DR. JEFFREY BERGER is the medical director of Guest House, the Residential Catholic Addiction Treatment Center in Lake Orion, MI. As well, he is contingent staff at Brighton Center for Recovery in Brighton, MI and has been practicing addiction medicine for over 30 years. He is an active member of the Catholic Medical Association.

Working wonders at St. Gregory’s

Legates’ addiction-treatment program helps people be who God calls them to be . . .

Michael and Rose Marie Vasquez, members of Legatus’ Des Moines Chapter

Barb Conner was in a “dark place” in 2008 when she boarded the plane in Boston and alighted in Iowa. Drinking, complicated by “unresolved issues,” had taken her life in a downward spiral. She had tried AA but found its approach “very negative,” regarding alcoholism as a disease and addiction as a permanent condition.

Her husband and daughters had desperately helped her research treatment options. Online they discovered St. Gregory Retreat Centers, which experts have touted as the most advanced, comprehensive alcohol and drug addiction recovery program in America. They spoke with co-founder Rose Marie Vasquez, who assured them that help was available.

“I was fearful about going,” Conner admitted. “But I found St. Gregory to be a truly peaceful place. They treat the whole person and take an honest approach to substance abuse: that it’s by choice that we drink abusively and that we need to get to the bottom of the reasons we do.”

From tragedy, inspiration

Michael and Rose Marie Vasquez, members of Legatus’ Des Moines Chapter, founded St. Gregory Retreat Centers in answer to a need discerned in tragedy.

“A dear friend of our son’s had a big problem with methamphetamines,” Rose Marie remembered. “We explored a normal course in substance-abuse treatment for him, but saw lots of holes in how it works.” Although the young man did well for a while, he got back on meth and died in a car wreck.

“But through that tragedy Michael and I felt inspiration: that God was calling us to found a place with a new standard of treatment – one that moved beyond addiction and empowered people to be who God wants them to be.”

The couple was in a position to do so, having recently sold their health care company. “Our first step,” Michael said, “was asking, what are the best treatment approaches out there and how can we build something new and better based upon research that proved successful?”

The St. Gregory model is built on the fact that the body goes through a level of chemical dependency, which has a psycho-social impact. “Once you become dependent on a drug, it ends up forming your values system,” Michael explained. “When treatment starts to pull that dependency away, you need to jump in and not only physically get a person off dependency, but change their thinking and rebuild their virtues and values so they can get to the point of making good decisions.”

Since 2006, St. Gregory patients have gone through a seven-week program of neuropsychological repair, behavior-modification training, life-skills exercises, and cognitive behavior therapy in a format not available through any other program in America. St. Gregory’s is state-licensed, internationally accredited and accepts health insurance. Its staff of over 100 can accommodate over 100 guests at its two single-sex residential-living retreat centers.


The Vasquezes named their venture after St. Gregory the Wonder Worker, a third-century bishop renowned for miraculous cures and conversions. They see a source of wonder in their patients as well: While the national average success rate one year after leaving a substance-abuse treatment program is only 12%, their program has maintained a 70% success rate over the last four years.

Medical director Dr. Charles V. Wadle says he’s proud of the Center’s new initiative called Harbor View Medical, a specialty clinic for people addicted to pain killers and prescription drugs.

“We’re dealing with a national epidemic of doctors over-prescribing medicines that can lead to abuse or dependence,” he said, noting that the majority of St. Gregory patients abuse drugs or alcohol versus being physically, although not necessarily psychologically, dependent upon them.

Randy Kiel, founder of Kardia Counseling, shares in Wadle’s concern. A mental-health counselor with a private psychotherapy practice in the Des Moines area, he has referred his own patients to St. Gregory’s and provided post-treatment counseling for those who have completed the program.

“St. Gregory moves peoples’ minds and spirits and brain structure into accommodating a different disposition of living,” Kiel said. “They help people get away from that one-day-away-from-addiction mindset relapse. Addiction doesn’t represent a true mindset. It’s a disorder to recover from, not a condition to suffer from your whole life.”

The program is also special because of its Catholicity, Kiel continued. “They offer grace at St. Gregory. They give people the room to receive an invitation to addressing the spiritual element of their persons. This is a genuinely Catholic approach, subtle but strong.”

Only about 30% of St. Gregory patients have identified themselves as Catholic. But the faith, though not a part of the formal treatment program, is omnipresent. Two deacons are on staff and a full-time chaplain has just been assigned to celebrate the sacraments, including daily Mass at the retreat house chapels. And in August, three Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary with backgrounds in nursing, social work and theological formation moved into their new convent on the women’s campus.

Proposing, not imposing

This exposure to religion, Wadle said, lends the Centers a “therapeutic reality” even if a patient doesn’t directly engage the faith. However, he has seen the program lead to several conversions and many instances of fallen-away Catholics “re-embracing the faith.”

And then there are people like Barb Conners. After her stay, she confided to Rose Marie Vasquez that, although she had embraced sobriety, “something was still missing.” Rose Marie then invited her back for a conference in 2011 about being sober for Christ.

This time she alighted in Iowa not in darkness, but with clouds parted. But the heavens opened wide after she met with a priest and unburdened that remaining unresolved issue impeding her full recovery: 10 years earlier she had painfully agreed to her 15-year-old daughter’s abortion.

“It was a terrible decision I was still blaming myself for,” she said. “I’d pushed it down deep inside and not dealt with it. I came back home joyful and rejuvenated, and since then I’ve been able to talk with the whole family about it. St. Gregory taught me how to be who God really wants me to be. And that gives real peace.”

Matthew A. Rarey is Legatus magazine’s editorial assistant.

Find out more by contacting St. Gregory’s Retreat Center at (515) 421-4080 or online via their website.

Porn: The marriage killer

Porn addiction is like alcoholism; addicts never recover, but are continually recovering . . .

Christopher West

Christopher West

Wherever he talks about the beauty of God’s plan for marriage, Christopher West hears from husbands and wives whose lives have been marred by pornography.

During his popular presentations on Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, West typically receives pleas for help from those caught in the snares of a pastime that promised pleasure, but brought only pain.

“It’s usually during breaks, over meals or drives to the airport. Someone will ask,‘Christopher, can you pray with me?’ I get notes handed to me or e-mails. Often wives will come to me sharing the addictions of their husbands.”

A major threat

West’s experience is reflected in statistics that show a significant number of people are involved with pornography, now estimated to rake in $10 billion per year. According to a 2007 pastoral letter on pornography issued by Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., 40 million U.S. adults regularly use Internet porn. A full 20% of men and 13% of women admit to accessing porn at work, and 47% of Christians surveyed said porn is a major problem at home.

Although pornography well predates the Internet, the World Wide Web has greatly enhanced its availability, enabling users to access it privately in their homes or offices without the risk of being seen at an adult video store.

But such secrecy cannot shield users or their families from pornography’s effects. In a recently released Family Research Council study, Dr. Patrick Fagan said porn wreaks havoc on individuals and families by altering attitudes and behavior.

“Among adolescents,” the report said, “pornography hinders the development of a healthy sexuality, and among adults, it distorts sexual attitudes and social realities. In families, pornography use leads to marital dissatisfaction, infidelity, separation and divorce.” The report called porn “a major threat to marriage, to family, to children and to individual happiness.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church also addresses pornography, saying it is a “grave offense” against chastity “because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other” (#2354).

Dr. Patrick Fagan

Dr. Patrick Fagan

Although pornography is sometimes touted as a means of enhancing sex, Fagan, director of MARRI (Marriage & Religion Research Institute) and senior fellow at the Family Research Council, said it takes the sexual vitality out of marriage. “It corrodes a man’s capacity for the sexual,” he told Legatus Magazine.

West said he believes this occurs because, despite pornography’s lure of greater sexual pleasure, it can never satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart for what St. Paul called the “great mystery” of the “one flesh.”

“God gave us that desire,” West said. “When we go to pornography to satisfy that desire, it’s like eating junk food. It’s not going to satisfy the legitimate hunger and need of the heart.”

Fighting the addiction

Not only does pornography fail miserably to fulfill the consumer’s deepest needs, it even harms those who don’t use it. Fagan said research shows porn is now the leading cause of marriage breakdown. His study found that when porn usage reaches the level of addiction, 40% of addicts lose their spouses. It has financial implications as well. Some 58% of addicts suffer considerable financial losses and about a third lose their jobs.

In response to this plague of porn, several dioceses have established programs to build awareness of porn’s devastating effects, provide support and healing to those affected by it, and educate Catholic families on what they can do to guard against its influence.

The Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese’s program encompasses Internet-awareness initiatives at several parishes, spiritual-care support groups and a secure phone line for those seeking help.

In addition, a number of bishops have written pastoral letters on porn. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops addressed the issue in its 1998 statement, “Renewing the Mind of the Media.”

When it comes to getting help, a porn addiction can be compared to alcoholism in that the addict never recovers, but is continually recovering, said Fr. John Mulvey, a family therapist in the Diocese of Venice, Fla.

Father Mulvey, who counsels adults and teens with pornography problems, said his treatment plan begins with three months of face-to-face counseling in person or via webcam, followed by weekly group meetings via teleconference or in the client’s community.

“I’ve found that the way back is through a reconnection with Christ and the Holy Spirit,” Fr. Mulvey said. He also recommends a daily routine that includes scripture reading, meditation and a personal review of why they’re in recovery.

Father Mulvey trains addicts to counteract fantasies by quickly relocating their minds to something else. “One of the things I have them do when they feel a trigger is just to say quietly, ‘My name is, my wife’s name is, we live in, I work at such-and-such a company.’ I call it taking a cold shower.”

Although helping porn addicts and working to stop its availability is important, Bishop Finn said he devoted a major portion of his pastoral letter to prevention through strengthening chastity and the other virtues.

“We must work to build ourselves up interiorly as a fortification against these spiritual attacks,” he said. “We shouldn’t underestimate the supernatural dimension of these influences in our culture. Satan isn’t giving up, so we must exercise our spiritual muscles and get stronger.”

Bishop Robert Finn

Bishop Robert Finn

Clearly, Bishop Finn said, the Catholic tradition offers much to ground people in the development of virtue, including the grace of Reconciliation and Holy Communion.

Men and women who travel for business, the bishop said, and find hotel porn to be a challenge should spend as little time alone in their rooms as possible, talk to their families often and decide not to turn on the TV.

Bishop Finn said Catholic business people can also help by finding out which hotel chains have paid large financial premiums to exclude adult channels from TV room packages and then supporting these facilities for conventions or business travel.

Judy Roberts is a Legatus Magazine staff writer.



My House Programs

Men of Valor/Women of Virtue Conference

Fr. John Mulvey

Family Research Council study

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