Why do so many individuals continue to struggle with addiction? When faced with losing their children, wife or husband, time and time again the addict chooses the drugs instead of loved ones.
Are they really that weak and pathetic? The answer is not quite so simple.
Here are the two main theories of addiction:
- The “choice” argument
- The “disease” argument
Table of Contents
The Choice Argument
The choice argument states that using drugs is a behavior, and anyone can choose to stop the bad behavior called addiction. If you hold a gun to an addicts head, they can “choose” to not use the drug, so it’s not a disease. You can’t hold a gun to a diabetics head and tell them they better get their blood sugar up or you’ll blow their brains out.
The Disease Argument
The disease argument states that addiction is an incurable disease (though it can be arrested), so the addict cannot control their drug use, even when faced with negative consequences.
To get in the “disease” club, there are certain criteria that must be met. First, there has to be an organ affected. Second, the organ has to have a defect. Finally, there must be symptoms that go along with the disease.
So in the case of diabetes:
- The organ is the pancreas.
- The defect is islet cell death (no insulin).
- The symptoms are elevated blood sugar, blurred vision, coma, etc.
When the disease model of medicine was developed many years ago, the doctors couldn’t find an organ affected by addiction.
They said, “addiction is not a disease, and we have real patients to treat.” They wiped their hands clean and left someone else to deal with it. Addiction didn’t just go away. Now the addicts had to answer to the criminal justice system.
Then In the 1960’s, there were a series of experiments done on mice called “The Olds Experiments” that prove without a doubt (and the scientific community backs this up) that addiction is a disease. When cocaine was injected into the midbrain (the part responsible for survival) of the mice, they would continue to lever press for more cocaine, even when it meant starving to death, dying of thirst, or being electrically shocked to death.
Now scientists were able to fit addiction into the disease model of medicine.
They concluded the following:
- The organ affected by addiction is the midbrain.
- The defect is a dysregulation of the dopamine (pleasure) system.
- The symptoms don’t look like symptoms, they look like badness (craving, lying, cheating, stealing etc).
Note: Number two is the main reason why the general public can’t get their brains around the fact that addiction is a disease. The symptoms look like badness. So it appears that the drug addicts are dirtbags and thieves intrinsically. If the prefrontal cortex were the part of the brain that drugs affected, these people would be correct.
This part of the brain is responsible for personality, right-and-wrong, social behaviors etc. In the Olds Experiments, the researchers believed this was the case. However, when they injected mice with cocaine in the prefrontal cortex and the mice didn’t become addicted, they were dumbfounded.
Here is some more food for thought. If people believe that addicts can’t stop because they are dirtbags or come from bad families then what about this: there aren’t any mice gangs. Mice don’t have family problems and issues with abuse. Yet they become addicted to drugs instantly when it’s injected into their midbrain, which is the part of the brain that is responsible for survival.
In a non-addict, the drug is just a drug. They can take it or leave it.
Examples of non-addicts are:
- Recreational users
- Regular users
Note: Once a person’s brain has crossed over to true addiction, the drug is not a drug anymore.
Drug = Survival to an Addict
The drug now literally means SURVIVAL. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why it’s so hard for the addict to stop, even faced with the most severe consequences. To go without the drug is to die, and to use the drug is to survive. As sick as this may sound, I assure you it is entirely accurate.
Here is the hard part. How do we distinguish the difference between the “bad abuser” and the “not so bad addict”. There is an imaginary line that separates the two, so it’s extremely difficult to tell whether or not they have lost control in their brain or not. Furthermore, at this point in time, it is very difficult to measure who has lost control and who is still just a bad abuser.
Therefore, I’m of the opinion that the majority of the citizens of the United States of America will continue to look at addiction as a moral deficiency, and in many cases, they will be right. It’s true, many addicts were not the highest quality individuals before they started using drugs.
On the reverse side, calling addiction an incurable disease is a huge cop-out, one that I bought into many years ago. When I hear people say “once an addict, always an addict”, I see how behind we are in making progress towards any kind of improvement in the field of addiction medicine.
Note: Twelve-step meetings reinforce this belief. I know they have helped many people recover, and I honor this, but quite frankly, there are many detrimental flaws to those programs that have caused me to become hugely disenchanted with them overall.
Going back to the choice versus disease argument, it’s true that you can hold a gun to an addicts head and they will “choose” to not use the drug. However, the brain still links survival to the drug, so they will still crave it. And that is why the disease argument is accurate.
You cannot hold a gun to an addicts head and tell them to stop craving. It is a physiological response that has been programmed into their midbrain (survival) by continued use of the drug. This is another important aspect. The addict had to continue using a drug, knowing it wasn’t healthy, for quite awhile before they could possibly become addicted.
In this respect, it is entirely the addict’s fault, and they should have known better. Perhaps they did. Maybe they knew the potential for addiction but lacked the willpower, moral fiber or integrity to kill the monster while it was still a baby.
Is Addiction a Disease or a Choice?
So, to sum it up, addiction can be labeled both a disease and a choice, though it’s not as easy of a choice as many believe. I even cringe at the word “disease”, even though the addiction community teaches this is correct. I believe this label can be dangerous, because addicts can justify their drug use, saying “well it’s this disease that I have”, which is bullshit in my opinion.
Words have incredible influence, so rather than calling addiction a disease, might we instead be better off saying addiction is nothing more than a bad habit that has gone on for too long, and now there are biochemical changes that need to be corrected?
From my perspective, addiction is a bad habit that gets way out of control, which can lead to temporary and reversible dysregulation of the midbrain dopamine (pleasure) system due to unmanaged stress, ultimately resulting in craving and other symptoms (lying, stealing etc).
In the end, I think everyone will at least agree with me about one thing: addiction is a major problem, and it’s only getting worse, not better.
What’s the Solution?
For starters, it might be beneficial for people who judge drug addicts to have a little more compassion. Yes, the addict did it to themselves, and they are entirely responsible for getting their lives together. However, I can guarantee you the people with judgments would have a whole new perspective if they lived with the addicted brain for a few days.
In that respect, it’s not as simple as just choosing to stop. Most of these people will never see it from a different perspective. They will continue to judge, and I don’t even blame them. Addiction ruins families and communities, so I see it continuing to cause grief and debate for years to come.
I choose to focus on the solution, not the problem. How in the world can we convince these addicts to stop? I honestly don’t know. At times I feel helpless towards making any significant change. I believe in my heart that it’s going to take a huge shift in our current view of addiction to solve any problems.
The same thinking we have been using will continue producing the same shitty results. It’s time to break outside of the box. I’ll tell you right now, as long as I’m alive there will always be drugs, and there will always be addicts. But this doesn’t have to be an epidemic.
We don’t have to stand by and watch young kids die of overdoses by the thousands every year. We don’t have to judge them anymore. We can make a difference. We can educate ourselves so that we are no longer ignorant and judgmental about addiction.
If nothing changes, nothing changes. To the people who cast judgment and look upon addicts with disgust, I urge you to have compassion for these people. I urge you to pray for them rather than see them as outcasts.
Stop Calling Addiction a Disease and Take Charge of Your Life
To the addicts reading this, it’s time for you to step up and show us what you’re made of! Are you going to continue letting your life go to waste? Are you going to continue self-medicating and running from your problems? Or are you finally going to face your fears and make something of your life?
What’s holding you back? Is it fear? Are you afraid to let go of your old ways? I’m here to remind you of all the things you are missing out on by continuing to abuse drugs. I bet it’s not even fun for you anymore. Have you become a slave to the drugs?
Do you constantly focus on getting and using, getting and using, over and over again? I used to be this way. I was a slave. My brain was high jacked, and no matter how much I wanted to quit, I would wake up every day and use again.
I was numbing the pain. I was self-medicating, covering up all of the horrible feelings I had inside. Feelings of unworthiness, of being different, of not being good enough. I was messed up. Taking drugs helped me deal with life.
I was a wimp, yes, but I grew up and know in my heart that I will never go down that road again. You too have the ability to stop using drugs at any moment. You just need the courage to say “I won’t screw my life up anymore!”
Life is an amazing gift, and it goes by fast. If you continue to use drugs, you’re throwing away the possibility of living life to the fullest. You’ll never know what true love, health, wealth, fulfillment and abundance feel like. You will always be in fear and feel different.
You will never know what it feels like to be truly confident, happy and peaceful. You’ll continue to put toxic drugs in your body, cutting off any chance of spiritual growth, any chance of contributing to society. You will not grow, therefore you will die, which is a Universal truth in nature.
No matter which treatment method you choose, the only true way to beat addiction once and for all is to outgrow that shit. Become more. Read books, feed your mind, start eating healthy, exercise, get counseling, get some sober friends, study up on recovery, DO SOMETHING!!!
Being a drug addict sucks. You can choose to stop right now. There will come many moments in your addiction where you get an insight, there will be an opening to a new life in front of you, and you’ll want to quit in that moment. These are often squandered. You will tell yourself some story of why you have to keep using, or why you will quit later.
You can Make the Transformation
If you want to make a transformation, ditch the story and jump through the opening. Be a leader! Show others how to do it. Don’t wait for the right time. Don’t wait another minute. As soon as you get fed up with your addiction and you have an insight, make a huge change!
Get on a plane and go camping somewhere far away from where you can’t get drugs. Have a friend or family member tie your ass up and drag you to rehab. Take whatever drastic measure is necessary to ensure you break your life-threatening pattern of drug addiction.
If you can accomplish this, I look forward to meeting and congratulating you on the other side…