You may think: I drink alcohol and I know my limits. Alcoholics just don’t know how to control themselves. It’s their choice that they don’t want to stop drinking. Just as easily, you probably infer the same thought process for other drugs out there… heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. Drug use is a choice.
Yes, drug use is a choice. It’s free-will to pick up that joint, light it and smoke it. But what’s going on behind the scenes (i.e. in your brain) isn’t a choice. Unless you can control your brain structure. In that case, who are you and where are you from?
Since I began working at the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, I’ve often asked myself: Why is there such resistance to acknowledge addiction as a disease. The media is so quick to call the person with an addiction irresponsible, reckless, selfish and troubled. And the majority of online commenters fuel the fire by honing in on the behaviors of the disease, rather than acknowledging the disease itself. It makes me wonder two things: Are people really that cruel? Do people understand what addiction really is?
Maybe, maybe not. My inclination is sensationalized news sells more magazines and drives traffic. That’s why news sources play up what’s going on with the Charlie Sheen’s and Lindsay Lohan’s of the world, but why do so many of you? It’s easy to blame someone for the choices they make in life, but when it comes to drug addiction, there is little choice involved. Although everyone has the potential for addiction, some people are more predisposed to addiction than others.
When a person is addicted they’re suffering continuously; their brain chemistry changes causing distortions of cognitive and emotional functioning; and, even in the face of death, they continue to harm themselves. Family and friends of addicts claim erratic changes in mood, behavior and perception. Many say their addicted loved one becomes an entirely different person.
Just like schizophrenics can’t control their hallucinations… Parkinson’s patients can’t control their trembling… clinically depressed patients can’t control their moods… once a person is addicted to drugs it’s not that different than other brain diseases. No matter how someone has developed an illness, once the person has it, they’re in a diseased state and need treatment.
Moreover, like any other illness, it affects family and friends, too. There are moms who stay up all night waiting for their child to come home. There are dads who fear that dreaded phone call telling them that their child has overdosed. There are siblings who try to remain strong as their family is slowly falling apart. There are friends who feel like their hands are tied, but are clinging to that small ounce of hope that the friend they once knew will accept help.
Ask the parents, family and friends of the addict if drug addiction is a choice. Go ahead and ask the addict himself as well. They will tell you from their experiences that addiction is not a choice.
Knowledge is power. (Sorry for the cliché). When we bash something that we don’t really understand, and we do it in the numbers, it sways public opinion – intended or not. With this mindset, the stigma that is attached with the disease of addiction will never go away unless we all change how we view it.