In the Gospels, Christ calls us to respond to the least of our brothers and sisters–those who are vulnerable and marginalized, those who are enslaved and suffering. In our society today, this translates directly to those of our brothers and sisters–fellow children of God–who suffer from substance use disorder. Millions of Americans aged twelve and older are in active addiction right now, with more than 175,000 lives claimed by this disease every year in the United States, making it the third leading cause of death in this country.
In order to respond to those sick and suffering and their families, we need to first understand addiction as not only a physical and psychological illness but also a spiritual disease that requires a spiritual remedy. Keaton Douglas and her co-author Lindsay Schlegel strive to do just that in The Road to Hope: Responding to the Crisis of Addiction. Keaton is the founder and executive director of the iTHIRST Initiative, which provides education and prevention, support for treatment centers and the incarcerated, and aftercare and community for those suffering and their families. Their book provides a comprehensive pastoral response to a crisis we can’t ignore any longer.
The book was well received by a willing audience earlier this spring, and Keaton saw a marked increase in enrollment in the iTHIRST Spiritual Companion Certification Training, offered by Seton Hall University. I had the opportunity to engage with Keaton on the book’s message and her hopes for the fruit it will continue to bear.
1. What was your personal faith journey, as a Catholic woman, that led you to the writing of this book?
I was born and raised a Catholic, but the unexpected demise of my marriage kept me away from the Church for a number of years. I struggled with questions and feelings of anger and resentment, even anger at God. However, a beautiful experience of divine grace provided me with the spiritual healing I needed to get on with my life and start sharing my reversion to the Faith with others. This led me to an experience of sharing my spiritual awakening and healing with women suffering from heroin addiction, who were on a Catholic retreat. I learned so much from them that day, as I began to understand that in our mutual brokenness, we can walk together to be healed. And thus began my vocation to walk with those sick and suffering from addiction and their families.
2. For many, the disease of addiction is understood as a moral failing or the result of poor choices by an individual. How would you respond to that in an effort to have individuals understand that at its root addiction is a spiritual disease?
Clearly, any time any one of us engages in an action that keeps us from God, there is an element of sinfulness. With the disease of addiction, there are so often mitigating physiological and psychological issues that have led them to that point. And the feelings of isolation, despair, guilt, and shame that a person feels in the midst of their addiction are really part of their spiritual condition and require spiritual healing. My hope is that we can look at those suffering and see our own suffering in them, and the face of Christ in them as well. Perhaps by seeing our own suffering, we will begin to change hearts and dispel the myth of the other.
3. In the book you speak frequently about “dispelling the myth of the other.” What exactly does that mean?
We have a tendency in our society to look at those whose experiences are different from ours as somehow being tremendously different from us. However, if we can see each other through that prism of our common brokenness, whatever that looks like, we can begin to see each other as having so much more in common than not. When I look at you, I see my suffering and I see the face of Christ. You are no different than me. When we dispel the myth of the other, we defeat the stigma of the other that for too long has plagued the marginalized.
4. So often treatment focuses on the individual, but your ministry, iTHIRST focuses just as readily on the individual’s family and friends, who are suffering in their own way. Why is this such an important element of the healing process?
Forty million Americans aged twelve and older are currently suffering in active addiction. Now consider that each one of those people has two or three people that are directly affected by their loved one’s using. That means there are at least 100 million people waking up each morning worrying about their addiction or the addiction of a loved one. Family members so often feel the same feelings of isolation, despair, guilt, and shame as their loved one. And so often societal stigma affects them as well, often precluding them from seeking the support they need for their own healing. We feel that our faith and our Church can be a gentle bridge for family members to find their own road to hope.
5. When a person finds out that their loved one is addicted to a substance or a behavior, what might they do and how can this book help them?
The greatest thing that a family member can do for someone who is suffering is to educate themselves and understand the disease beyond the prism of their own pain. This will help them come to an understanding of their loved one and what they’re going through in their active addiction and will help to change hearts, open minds, and perhaps even save lives. The book will encourage family members to seek the support that they need, whether it is through faith groups or support fellowships, such as Al-Anon or Nar-Anon.
6. Lindsay Schlegel is a wonderful author and editor in her own right. How did you two come to collaborate on this book?
Our mutual friend, Allan Wright, connected us about eight years ago when I was working on a memoir. Lindsay helped me edit that project for a time until other obligations took precedence and we set it to the side. In October 2020 we reconnected and started collaborating on a different book that grew out of the first. That book is The Road to Hope.
7. Who was this book designed to help, and who should be reading it?
The book is designed for everyone who has been affected by the disease of addiction in one way or another, either by their own addiction or the struggle of a loved one. However, this book should be read by everyone who has never been affected by the disease of addiction as well, because by recognizing both our own brokenness and frailties in those that struggle, we can all become part of the solution and ultimately welcome people back into our faith.
8. What do you hope this book will accomplish, and where can folks find out more about your Initiative and the work of iTHIRST?
The founder of the Missionary Servants of the Most Holy Trinity, Fr. Thomas Judge, talked about those of us who toil in the “tangled portion of the vineyard,” a metaphorical way of speaking of those who work with the vulnerable and marginalized. I’m hopeful that for all of us who toil in this manner, we will never be repulsed by the many thorns we will encounter in this work, but instead, with grace and humility, and in emulation of the Blessed Mother, we may learn to embrace those thorns as Christ did.
The book is available at:
and other online retailers for $15.95
“It is likely that most of us know someone who will be helped by this book, which assures us that that addiction does not have to have the final word, that there is a road to hope.”
– Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston
“The oscillation between Scripture, Catholic Social Teaching, personal narrative, and clinical research fills a distinct need amidst approaches that view addiction in either purely secular terms or purely spiritual ones. The theological care exhibited by Douglas and Schlegel exudes solutions while simultaneously elevating the centrality of the human dignity of those impacted by addiction.”
– Marty Tomszak, professor of theology, Valparaiso University and author
“The Road to Hope challenges the many misconceptions and the stigma surrounding addictions through real-life stories, Church teaching, and a compassionate tone.
A must-read for anyone seeking to better understand the cycle of addiction from a Catholic worldview.”
– Julia Hogan-Werner, licensed therapist and author