Addiction: Disease Or Self Infliction?
A widespread topic of interest I have been continuously noticing for the past year has been one I have been eager to share my thoughts on. There is a multitude of opinions and perspectives on addiction that have caused this topic to be one of great controversy.
That topic is the debate of whether or not addiction is a disease.
I am aware that there are valid points to each side of the argument, but I am here to express my thoughts on addiction. While there are many that may not agree with my personal opinion on the subject, I respect the opinion of those who feel differently. The different opinions on this issue are rooted in personal experience with addiction and I believe open, compassionate conversations need to be had with both sides.
As an addict, your brain begins to alter and transform to your drug of choice. You think differently, your actions change and you become accustomed to what the drug is doing to you mentally, emotionally and physically.
According to Merriam-Webster, a disease is classified as:
“A condition of the living animal or plant body or of one of its parts that impairs normal functioning and is typically manifested by distinguishing signs and symptoms.”
People say addiction is not a disease because it is a choice. Well, yes, it was a choice to start, but it becomes a disease once the drugs alter how the mind works. Recently, I partook in a conversation involving addiction in which the other individual told me they believe initial choices do not become diseases. If we apply that logic to people who contract an STD after a sexual encounter we are essentially saying they chose to have that disease. On the contrary, the choice was to have sex, the STD was simply an unwanted consequence. No one chooses to get an STD.
Now, I do believe that it is the users choice to begin drugs. It is easy to fall under peer pressure, but knowing how drugs affect you should be reason enough never to begin.
But that is not the focus of this discussion.
I have seen important people in my life cry out for help as they relapsed, winding up where they began. I have also seen some fight hard to better themselves and put an end to their addiction. It is a lot easier said than done to stop something that has become a part of your life. It can potentially be a never ending fight that winds up fatal in the long run. Those using usually know the circumstances involved, that it is a negligent way to spend their time. But they become dependent on the feelings brought on by a high and become prone to making the decision to keep feeling that sense of euphoria obtained through drugs.
“Every drug, including alcohol, disrupts the reward system in the brain. Unfortunately, long-term usage can cause changes in the reward circuit that influence the brain’s ability to function. Specifically, the areas of the brain that are tied to making decisions, learning, remembering, and controlling behavior are all affected.”
I came across this fact while reading a forum of individuals sharing their stories on how they conquered addiction. I gained a good amount of insight through reading this as to how you should act when you know someone who is an avid user.
Recognize that self-control can be difficult.
It is not easy to wake up one day and decide you are going to quit. Yes, it has been done, but it is not easy. The detoxification process in some cases may be dangerous causing hesitation with the process of getting clean. For example, heroin and opioid users are prone to the risk of suffering seizures, tremors and even excessive vomiting.
Help them focus on their interests. Not their addiction.
I had a good friend many years ago who unexpectedly developed an addiction to cocaine. She was a full-time student studying to be a veterinarian. Less than a year away from obtaining her degree, she rapidly went on a downward spiral and stopped attending school. Instead of focusing on her studies, she focused on when and where she was going to get her next fix. I talked to her one day. I sat her down, not saying a word about how her eyes looked like they were sinking into the back of her head. Or how she looked like a living skeleton. I looked past all that and talked to the friend I knew. The one who just a year prior was so full of life and ready to live her dream of working with animals. Not battling addiction.
I asked how she felt about not being in school. I asked if she still loved animals as much as she had. All she did was cry. She cried for her old self and the life she wanted back. A week later she was flying out to California to check herself into rehab.
I wish that this was where I would close the book and say “The end”. I wish I could say that she is a successful veterinarian, raising the five kids she always wanted. After a long battle with addiction, she relapsed and was found dead in her bathroom on the one year anniversary of her sobriety.
Help them realize it is possible to push through a relapse.
In the case of my friend, this was not the outcome. She went back to her old ways and became accustomed to the life she wanted to put in the past. She could have checked herself back into a facility, but promptly decided against that.
Instead of giving addicts a bad rep, we need to provide support; to help them realize they can recover. Being there for them instead of being against them makes a difference. Saying it is their fault for beginning is one thing. Yes, they are the ones that chose to do drugs, but the disease comes after the drugs have been taken.
Addiction is all encompassing; chemical, physical and psychological. That is where most lose understanding in my opinion.
I pray addiction begins to be a problem we see less of. I pray that those battling become strong and better themselves because they deserve it. We have a long road ahead putting an end to this epidemic, but I believe it can be done.