Calling Addiction is a disease is a cop out…

I believe, with all that I am, that it’s my destiny to educate ignorance off the map. But, sometimes, I’m reminded with a harsh dose of unrelenting reality that ignorance runs stronger in our world than the riptides in the Pacific.

To illustrate the magnitude of my mission, I present the following response from the Substance Abuse & Addiction Perception Survey:

I do not see addiction as a disease. Nothing is a disease. We have control and make a choice with every single thing that we do in our lives. “A disease” is a cop out so we don’t need to take responsibility. Or so that we can play the victim.

Now, I get that not everyone has to live by a definition of Addiction that is accepted by the medical community, as I do. I also understand that we are all entitled to our own respective opinions on things. I even think that the First Amendment may be the single most important piece of legislation in U.S. history. However, the statement above isn’t about an opinion; it has pragmatic consequences that interfere with treatment and increase the shame and anxiety associated with early recovery.

I honestly wish that we all had control of our lives. But the truth is that we actually control very little of our time on Earth. Really, if we have the emotional and psychological tools to respond to reality’s ebbs and flows, then we can control how we respond to those ebbs and flow. But, thanks to so many genetic and environmental circumstances, many people don’t have or develop those emotional tools and can succumb to the belief that they are at some harsh force’s mercy and can’t do anything to change their lives.

What’s really surprising is the statement that nothing is a disease. That’s about as ignorant as a statement can be. I can assure this responder that cancer is a real disease and there is often no choice in how it emerges or is treated. Addiction is similar in that two people can both try alcohol for example, yet one develops a physical dependency while the other doesn’t. So much of who develops an addiction depends upon genetics that it can almost seem like a crapshoot at times. Really, I know that I didn’t choose my genetic profile, and I’m pretty sure no one else did, either.

The idea of choice is so misunderstood, yet brandished about like a weapon. I’ve sat with literally hundreds of people who think that recovery is a matter of choice that I am almost beginning to believe them…almost. I think that, yes, people have to choose to become healthy, but if they don’t have the resources needed for treatment, then no amount of choice is going to provide those resources. Really, no one can magically choose to have insurance that can cover treatment costs and have it appear. Nope, if people can’t afford insurance, then their treatment probably won’t be covered and no matter how much responsibly they take for their actions, circumstances don’t allow for treatment.

Addiction is a treatable disease that isn’t going away just because we collectively choose for it to go away.


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