Drugs, Drug Abuse and Drug Addiction
What is a Drug?
A drug is, in the broadest of terms, a chemical substance that has known biological effects on humans or other animals. Foods are generally excluded from this definition, in spite of their physiological effects on human and animal species.
In pharmacology, a drug is "a chemical substance used in the treatment, cure, prevention, or diagnosis of disease or used to otherwise enhance physical or mental well-being." Drugs may be used for a limited duration, or on a regular basis for chronic disorders.
Recreational drugs are chemical substances that affect the central nervous system, such as opioids or hallucinogens. Alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine are the most widely consumed psychotropic drugs worldwide.
Drug Abuse is a Mortal Sin and Against Nature
Everyone knows in their conscience that the consuming of mind altering drugs such as smoking marijuana or taking LSD or ecstasy is a mortal sin just like getting drunk is a mortal sin, because when “a man willingly and knowingly deprives himself of the use of reason, whereby he performs virtuous deeds and avoids sin... he sins mortally by running the risk of falling into sin. For [Saint] Ambrose says (De Patriarch. [De Abraham i.]): "We learn that we should shun drunkenness, which prevents us from avoiding grievous sins. For the things we avoid when sober, we unknowingly [or knowingly] commit through drunkenness." Therefore drunkenness, properly speaking, is a mortal sin.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 150, Article 2. Whether drunkenness is a mortal sin?)
A person who uses a drug that makes him intoxicated needs an absolutely necessary reason (such as a grave illness) to excuse his usage of the drug from being a sin, and when he does not have such an absolutely necessary excuse to excuse his drug usage, he commits the sin of drug abuse. A sick person is allowed by God’s permission to take drugs in order to lessen his pain. But when this sick person uses more drugs than he needs in order to get intoxicated and for mere pleasure, or continues to use the drug after he gets well, he commits the sin of drug abuse. This is a perfect example of those who use drugs for the mere sake of pleasure. They are gluttonous or overindulgent in their sensual appetite, and are thus sinning against their reason and the Natural Law. For “the sin of lust [or pleasure seeking] consists in seeking venereal pleasure not in accordance with right reason...” and “lust there signifies any kind of excess.” (St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Q. 154, Art. 1)
St. Alphonsus Liguori, one of the most well known doctors of the Church, in his masterpiece “The True Spouse of Jesus Christ”, shows us the inherent evil of acting in accordance to our sensual desires: “Pope Innocent XI Odescalchi has condemned the proposition which asserts that it is not a sin to eat or to drink from the sole motive of satisfying the palate. However, it is not a fault to feel pleasure in eating: for it is, generally speaking, impossible to eat without experiencing the delight which food naturally produces. But it is a defect to eat, like beasts, through the sole motive of sensual gratification, and without any reasonable object. Hence, the most delicious meats may be eaten without sin, if the motive be good and worthy of a rational creature; and, in taking the coarsest food through attachment to pleasure, there may be a fault.” (The True Spouse of Jesus Christ, p. 282)
We don’t know if smoking in very small amounts once in a while is a sin. But we believe that smoking habitually or regularly is a sin, and it definitely cuts out graces from people’s lives. We don’t see how those who smoke habitually, for example throughout the day, would be any different from people who eat candy all day and thus try to constantly gratify themselves in that way. This is not even to get into the issue that we know it’s horrible for health and leads to death. If you are smoking, you are giving a horrible example to people, tempting them to start smoking which is highly addictive and lethal. Smoking is so addictive that medical scientists have compared the addiction to Heroin addiction. Most people who get addicted to cigarettes will never be able to stop and will be life long slaves under a most filthy, evil and grace diminishing habit.
The same can be said of all addictive substances that you don’t need to survive, such as: coffee, candy, chips, cookies, soda, good meats etc... If you can’t abstain from these substances for even a few days, then you are addicted to them and need to learn to abstain from them. Good days for learning to abstain from one’s own desires are Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Fridays has always been a day of abstinence in the Catholic Church – since Our Lord suffered and died on that day – which means that one cannot eat anything containing meat under pain of mortal sin (there is no obligation of fast or abstinence on a holy day of obligation such as Christmas, even if it falls on a Friday). One should of course also abstain from other superfluous substances. While some substances may appear to be harmless, grace is highly diminished in people who always uses things which are superfluous.
St. Francis of Assisi was well aware of the truth that seeking pleasure corrupts the soul. St. Francis even used to put ashes in his food in order to make it taste bad since he understood that the five senses and the search to gratify them made the soul weaker. Someone might ask: “Does that mean that eating good things is a sin?” The answer is of course that eating good things in itself is no sin. However, one should definitely try to avoid all things that are tasty and addictive, such as superfluous and tasty foods, meats, beverages, cigarettes, candy, chips, cakes, spices, sauces, dressings, etc. The reason why man should do his utmost to avoid pleasurable things is because the five senses of man, after the fall, was corrupted by self-love and self-gratification. That’s precisely why countless saints have refused to eat food that taste good. However, no one should get the idea that it’s sinful to eat tasty foods, but understand that people who always want to eat these foods will fall into sin, for gluttony and lack of moderation is certainly sinful.