People commonly mistake the action and lifestyle choice of using drugs with the actual disease of addiction. Comments arising from this false believe include “Just Stop Using Drugs” or “Addition is a Choice”. While people do have control over their lifestyle choices, nobody chooses a disease.
Comparing Addiction to Diabetes (Both Diseases)
Addiction can be compared to diabetes, not because they are similar in their characteristics but because nobody really disputes that diabetes is indeed a disease. Nobody chooses to become diabetic. However, lifestyle choices that contribute to its onset includes weight gain, eating sugary substances, lack of exercise, etc. Those with a genetic predisposition to diabetes are at greater risk of acquiring it if they indulge in these risky lifestyle choices. Similarly, addiction is a disease affecting brain chemistry. Lifestyle choices that contribute to its onset includes risky behaviors such as using drugs (heroin, opiates, benzodiazepines, etc.), gambling, drinking, having unprotected sex with multiple partners, work, etc. Indulging in these risky behaviors is very dangerous for anyone however, for those with a genetic predisposition towards addiction, they can be downright toxic.
Addiction is a lot Like Falling in Love
Now imagine falling in love with the woman or man of your dreams only to find out later that they’re abusive or possess qualities of a “gold digger”. Everyone around you can see how toxic this person is for you yet you stay in the relationship anyway. You may be in denial on the outside but deep down inside you suspect what you know to be true in your heart – you’re in a bad relationship and you’re in way over your head.
You eventually want out but you know breaking a connection with someone you love so deeply is going to hurt like hell. Breaking the attachment is a choice but it’s very difficult to do.
Similarly, those suffering from the disease of addiction have developed relationships with heroin or their drug/activity of choice and the connection is similar to the one people have in romantic love relationships. Breaking that connection with heroin or whatever they are addicted to is possible but on a scale of difficulty between 1 and 10, it’s a 10.
If Addiction is a Disease, Will They Become Addicted to Everything?
Those suffering from addiction won’t become addicted to everything they try. However, brain chemistry changes dramatically when an addict finds that one activity / item that triggers their addiction. Brain scans of addicts indulging in their drug of choice demonstrate a very similar experience / pattern in the brain as those who’ve fallen in love.
Why one person becomes addicted to heroin while another becomes addicted to Cocaine, or gambling, or unprotected sex with multiple partners, etc. has to do a lot with individuality, one’s physiology / chemical makeup and underlying psychological issues. While there is no exact explanation for this, it’s similar to why people have various interests. Two brothers may fall in love with two very different women. One might like chocolate while another may prefer strawberry. Similarly, addiction will grasp onto what it prefers and then obsess over it.
Dependency Vs. Addiction
Anyone who uses heroin or other drugs with addictive properties can easily and quickly become dependent on it. Dependency is your body’s natural physical response to the drug because eliminating it from your system will send you into withdrawal. However, dependency will not likely result in the compulsive use and abuse of the drug long after it is required. For example, a car accident victim may temporarily withdrawal from the morphine used to manage pain in the hospital but won’t likely seek out or continually use morphine once its no longer prescribed/needed. Someone suffering from addiction will likely continue using and abusing a drug long after its needed due to a chemical reaction in the brain similar to falling in love.
Stigma and Stereotypes Against Drug Addicts
People who make statements like “addiction is a choice” and “just stop it already” typically mistake the brain disease of addiction with the lifestyle choice of using drugs. Others are simply intolerant because they can’t relate or can’t truly comprehend what it’s like. Perhaps after reading this article, people who didn’t previously understand will be a bit more sympathetic and be more diplomatic when encouraging those suffering from addiction to quit using drugs.
The Role of Responsibility and Accountability as it Relates to Addiction & Recovery
Having a disease does not absolve anyone from responsibility and accountability. Those suffering from addiction are obligated to get the help they need and get clean. They are not indemnified from illegal activity such as burglary, assault, etc. Criminal activity should still be punished and addicts should not receive a “Get Out of Jail Free” card simply because they’re sick. View “The Role of Responsibility and Accountability in Recovery” for more information about this important subject.
Now should drug possession or use result in jail time or should they be mandated to a treatment facility where they can get the help they need? Instinctively, the latter makes more logical sense however, unless an addict is truly ready to choose recovery and leave their drug of choice behind, it’s likely to be a waste of taxpayers money since the likelihood they will go back to using when they leave treatment is rather high. People can only recover if they truly want it.
Written and Published By,
William – Publisher and Founder of Kill the Heroin Epidemic Nationwide™