Addiction – Disease or Choice?

disease choice addiction

Social media is a double-edged sword. We can use its powers for good – to increase awareness, to spread messages of hope and optimism, and to connect with our fellows over common interests, shared aspirations, and dank memes. Or, we can use its powers for evil (which we seem to be significantly more prone to doing). We can engage in futile arguments, bully our peers, and waste away our days indoors; scrolling and trolling and contributing nothing (or very little) to society as a whole. Recently, an article was published on an online social media platform known as The Odyssey. This specific platform operates based on a crowdsourced model, receiving hundreds of articles every week from an active base of thousands of volunteer authors. The articles are then edited through a team of volunteer, outsourced, or professional content strategists. Sites like these have become increasingly popular over the course of the past several years, and are an excellent way for aggressively opinionated and shockingly ignorant individuals to publicly spread their judgmental viewpoints.

Is a Addiction a Disease or a Choice?

On April 24th, a young woman by the name of Brianna Lyman wrote a brief article discounting the disease model of addiction. She argued that those claiming to suffer from a disease were simply looking for an easy way out – ‘blaming their choices on a disease that they brought on themselves’. Lyman contended (in so many words) that individuals suffering from disease such as cancer are truly sick, while those that call themselves addicts are big old baby fakers. How dare addicts claim that they suffer from a disease when they obviously caused their addictions by decisively engaging in reckless and self-destructive behavior? She ends the short article by begging addicts to stop playing the victim role; stop pretending to be sick in order to receive pity. On May 2nd, another young woman by the name of Hannah Buckley published an article on the same site, in response to the heated condemnation of so-called ‘addicts’. In this rational and thought-out response, Buckley supported the disease model of addiction with facts, statistics, and ample evidence. She argued that shaming addicts would only work to further exacerbate what has quickly become a national epidemic. She urged readers to take a more compassionate stance on the subject – to consider the parents, siblings, and loved ones of the 23.5 million Americans currently hooked on drugs and alcohol.

Neither young woman spoke from a place of personal experience. One went on a heated an ill-supported rant, the other compiled some convincing statistics in a logical and persuasive manner. The widespread and varying reactions that both articles prompted, however, came from addicts, the family members of addicts, specialists in the field of addiction, and a wide range of other individuals with both personal and professional experience. Over the course of the past few days, my Facebook feed has been flooded with heated responses to one article, the other, or both. Although I have enough sense to understand that everyone loves to dip into controversy, I also honestly can’t believe the archaic stance that some people are taking on the subject at hand. I mean, we know that addiction is a disease. There isn’t much room for debate. The scientifically and medically approved definition of addiction is ‘a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by drug seeking and use despite negative personal consequences’. Addiction is a brain disease. Neurological changes take place, science stuff happens, and the chemical makeup of the brain is actually altered. This is not a conspiracy theory. This is not a weird joke that someone took way too far. This is legitimate. Sorry.

Yeah, Addiction is a Thing

There is no shortage of extensive research to back this definition. Every denier can be instantaneously shot down with a barrage of actual statistics. But as I ventured further into the depths of this futile and exasperating argument, I uncovered the real driving force behind the divide. Even most ‘non-believers’ are willing to call addiction a disease, understanding that, well… it factually is one. But many are hung up on the idea that addicts chose to pick up in the first place. If they never would have taken a drink, they never would have opened the door to begin with. Maybe addiction is a disease – but it all began with a choice.

Yeah, okay. Hi. Neither of my parents are alcoholic, and as far as I know, no one in my immediate family has ever struggled with substance abuse. But even if they had, my 14-year-old brain would not have ever been like, “Oh, no thank you, peer. As much as I want to fit in and be socially accepted, my great uncle had a coke problem, so I am going to respectfully decline that lukewarm cup of beer.” My 15-year-old brain would never (in a million years) think to avoid smoking pot out of an apple with my friends on lunch break because maybe, sometime in the future, I would become physically dependent on alcohol. Teenagers don’t think in these terms. Teenagers want to be ‘cool’ and accepted, and typically don’t consider potential genetic predisposition before showing up to a high school party. I never did, at least. Did you?

What If We Tried to Solve the Problem?

Rather Than Incessantly Arguing Its Validity…

Rather than arguing yes or no, we should be putting our brainpower towards the how and the why. How can we improve upon the situation at hand? What actions can we take on a national level to help prevent the rapidly escalating rates of overdose-related death? On a state level? In our communities? Why are we focusing on whether or not addiction is a choice when an average of 91 innocent American citizens are losing their lives to addiction on a daily basis? Almost 100 lives are lost per day. That number is bigger than semantics – clearly bigger than choice. Rather than sitting around and condemning others for fighting battles we cannot begin to understand, why don’t we start doing everything in our personal power to help our fellow man?

Do you real think that high school football star who was prescribed opioid painkillers for a sports-related injury thought to himself, “Well, continuing to pursue my dreams, maintain my interpersonal relationships, and become a financially capable and productive member of society sure sounds good… but I think I’ll go buy a bag of dope and watch my world crumble instead.” The vast majority of heroin addiction cases begin with pharmaceutical painkillers – prescribed medications. If a doctor was like, “Here, take this,” would you be like, “Um, no, sorry, there is a chance that I will develop a chemical dependency and eventually turn to heroin when government crackdowns on painkillers are implemented. Bye.” No. So stop it.

Open your ears and your minds and your hearts and do everything you can to keep your fellow human beings alive and well. We need one another. Act in love.