The brain’s love affair with drugs

By Charlene Scott Myers

Special to the Catholic

A man who lived for years with low self esteem — and suffered because of it — urged teachers of Catholic schools to “learn what kids are encountering in their lives.”

 The teachers from Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Dodge City gathered at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Guadalupe Aug. 16 to discuss “the opioid crisis in Kansas” and to try to figure out why students take drugs that sometimes lead them to suicide.

Three youths of varying ages have committed suicide in recent months in the Dodge City area.

 Raymond Colligan was one of the two speakers at the cathedral gathering.

“When I was a freshman at a Catholic high school, my mother learned to dislike one of my teachers because of what he taught,” Colligan recalled.

“It wasn’t such a thing as a bad word, just words used badly,” he explained.

  “We students were not allowed to use the ‘N’ word or ‘bullocks,’ (a derogatory and vulgar British slang word that means spineless and lacking in courage.)”

But apparently, his teacher used the words, and some of his classmates taunted him by yelling that Colligan’s name was “bullocks.”

So following his graduation, he set out to prove his rude classmates were wrong.      

He devoted himself to Native Americans, and worked for the Jesuits on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota for 18 years.

“And without my consent, I was formed to do the work I do now,” he said. 

Colligan received a Masters Degree in Counseling Studies and is a Licensed Clinical Addictions Counselor.  He was employed by Valley Hope, an alcohol and drug addiction treatment center, where he worked for 18 years.

He currently is in his fourth year of private practice, in addition to counseling on an outpatient basis.

“My job is to help people seek wisdom,” he told the teachers. 

“When a student is ready, God will send the teacher,” added the speaker who said he was “raised by Dominican Sisters.”

“The desire of my heart today is to inspire,” he told his audience of teachers.  “The word ‘insparata’ means ‘divinely touched.’”

Colligan noted that drug addiction “now is described as a brain disease,” and explained why drug addicts are “captured” by drug dependency.

“The brain changes,” he explained.  “It is profound.  You have a love affair with the drugs. The brain has us seeking pleasurable behavior, and the seeking continues despite the consequences.

“There is not a person in this room who has not experienced behavior repeating itself over and over.  We are seekers of pleasure, and despite the consequences, we keep at the behavior.  We seek relief from stress and wish to feel better and improve our performance.”

Human beings also like fun, and experience cultural pressure to experiment “with this or that,” he added.  “The human brain loves what it loves.  It took a long time in the midst of my growing up to learn that I lived in a culture that addicts us.

“My father was an Irishman, and I developed my self esteem based on my performance and work.  My first job was when I was a junior in high school.  I was driven, compulsive, and later learned I was addicted to work.

“Along with that job came cigarettes.  I was a junior and 18, and I carried a pack of cigarettes, and they couldn’t do anything about it!

 “I learned that white people and white cultures have an addiction to superiority.  For the 18 years I lived with Native Americans, I learned that some cultures have awful, awful problems, and that rich people can be dangerous with their huge sense of entitlement.”

Jesus said that it was as difficult for a rich man to enter heaven as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, Colligan noted. 

“Poor people can get addicted to powerlessness and being victimized,” he said. “I have witnessed that.”

To break a self image and change your story takes a tremendous amount of hard work, he acknowledged.

“As a little boy, because of my father’s neglect, I believed I was unlovable, and I was not sure I would ever amount to anything.  I had to learn how to free my mind.  

“We need to look at the way we think,” he said.  “AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) has an expression ‘stinkin thinkin.’  We have to take on our attitude and way of behaving.  That’s what AA calls recovery, and that’s what I call salvation!”