Andrew is addicted to cocaine. 15 years ago he drank himself drunk and smoked weed for the first time. It was intense, and something about it was pleasurable. Andrew wanted more, and one of his buddies introduced him to cocaine. Before he knew it, he was behind bars serving a sentence for possession. When released, the person who meant the most to him – his mom – disowned him because, “Son, you had a choice. You chose to be an addict, and I ain’t supporting that. You’re on your own.”
Timothy is addicted to heroin. He’s one of the lucky ones. He’s never been caught, except by his dad. For the last five years, Timothy’s father has tried to get his son into rehab, but the thing about addicts is they have to want to quit. They have to accept help. So his father has tried to understand Timothy, and he’s discovered that his son didn’t start using heroin until after being diagnosed with a chronic pain condition. Timothy started using prescription valium and abused it. When he lost his job and insurance (a result of valium abuse), he turned to heroin. His dad keeps telling his son, “You’re sick. You need the right treatment for this disease.”
Who’s enabling addiction, Andrew’s mom or Timothy’s dad?
Addiction Opinions, Facts & Stigmas
Opinions, man. Everybody has them. Sometimes people agree. Sometimes they disagree. Sometimes they do this amazing thing called agreeing to disagree. But there’s this incredibly important principle a lot of us forget in this day and age: Opinions are not facts. Just because you believe something doesn’t mean it’s true. For example, I believe one day I’ll open my mailbox and have a letter to Hogwarts because Harry Potter is real! I can believe it all I want; no amount of belief will make it fact or cause it to happen because my belief is an opinion.
Addiction is a disease. Medical science is proving this statement as fact time and time again. Addiction is a physical dependence, but it also has a psychological side that crosses into the horror scene of mental illness. I say “horror scene” because when you talk mental health, it’s like fog rolls in, organ music starts to play, and an ax murderer charges. We get this creepy, scary feeling when we hear the term mental illness because we’re as afraid of it as that ax murderer. Fear and stigma flood in, and suddenly, it’s a lot easier to NOT sort through the fog, to NOT realize that the organ music is just floating through the air from a church in the distance, and the ax murderer, he’s just a guy trying to get firewood and didn’t even realize you were there. Instead of sorting out the facts, it’s easier to succumb to something else…
Addiction is a choice. Here’s where addiction gets tricky. Take Andrew as an example. He chose to drink the alcohol that impaired his judgment. Then, he chose to try marijuana. When his friend invited him to try cocaine, he chose to do it. Is it reasonable to say Andrew chose addiction, and therefore, it’s not a disease? To call it a disease would give him a free pass to use as much of any substance as he wants because the dude’s got a condition. Right? Wrong.
Labeling Addiction as a Choice
Andrew did choose to use alcohol. He may or may not have known he was drinking the most dangerous gateway drug on the planet. He may not have realized what the choice to drink, the choice to use marijuana, and the choice to use cocaine would lead to. But he did make those choices.
Addiction changes the way the brain works. While a person does choose to use an addictive substance, they don’t choose the dependence their body develops, and they often can’t change it without the right kind of help.
When Andrew’s mom gave up on him, she unknowingly enabled the continuation of his habit. Enabling comes in many forms, and it includes empowering use through depression, anxiety, and hopelessness.
Labeling Addiction as a Disease
Let’s talk about Timothy. Some would say his father is enabling him by calling his addiction a disease, but Timothy represents a growing problem in the United States. One of the leading causes of drug abuse and addiction stems from medical conditions, especially pain related issues. Timothy chose to use the prescription his doctor gave him, and it triggered a substance abuse problem. He didn’t choose to become an addict, and his doctor didn’t make him one. His body’s reaction to the prescription valium lead to abuse and addiction, and it avalanched into a life-destroying condition.
By recognizing Timothy’s addiction as a disease, his father is taking steps to avoid enabling. Instead of focusing on blame or perpetuating guilt, he’s laying the foundation for seeking the right medical help.
Does calling addiction a disease enable addicts? No, it doesn’t, but it does enable getting the right kind of help. It recognizes the truth many refuse to see because addiction is ugly. It’s wicked and painful and destructive and confusing. It’s insidious and deadly like cancer, but millions refuse to see it for what medical science has and continues to prove it to be: a disease. And it’s not just a disease – it’s a curable disease IF addressed and properly treated, IF caught before an overdose or suicide.
So in response to the popular opinion that calling addiction a disease enables and fuels the opioid epidemic in America, STOP.
- Stop calling accurate diagnosis, recognition, and treatment of a disease enabling.
- Stop telling people that it’s all their fault and all their choice.
- Stop driving people who need help to the brink of suicide because of your opinion.
- Stop crucifying loved ones because one choice that may or may not have been bad at the time lead to substance abuse and/or addiction.
No one is telling you to change your beliefs. You’re entitled to your opinion, but understand it could drive someone you love to a higher level of substance abuse, fuel their addiction, and contribute to their death. Just maybe it’s time to agree to disagree and focus on what matters the most: Ensuring an addict has access to the right kind of help.
What exactly is enabling? How does it start? How can you stop it? We’ll cover these topics in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned!