Is Drug Addiction a Choice?

An addiction causes shame and guilt among the user and often among his or her family members and loved ones. This is because our society today looks down on the addict or alcoholic as being weak, lazy, or a failure. However, such thinking is not beneficial when it comes to helping the person get over their addiction. Drug addiction, while it stems from poor decision making and distorted judgment, is not something anyone chooses to become controlled by, and rather than looking down on these individuals for their addiction, we should do all we can to understand addiction and encourage and support recovery.

The Stigma of Addiction

It’s not surprising that there is such a stigma associated with addiction. Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol commonly lie to cover up their condition and isolate themselves from loved ones they know would disapprove of their actions. Some turn to stealing and drug dealing to pay for their substances. Their condition often keeps them from being a faithful employee or a contributing member of society. When society sees an addict, they see a taker, and many people are simply too busy or unwilling to let anything dysfunctional into their lives. Unfortunately, being the outcast of society has detrimental effects on the addict, and can often lead to an even greater decline in the individual’s life and behavior.

Causes of Addiction

In order to reverse the stigma of addiction, we must first understand it. Addiction can start for many different reasons; most often it is a coping mechanism, when an individual begins drinking or doing drugs to ease pain, discomfort, sadness, or loneliness. Many people start using prescription painkillers to self-medicate because of chronic pain or an acute injury. Others begin drinking because it numbs their emotional suffering after a marriage has ended or a friendship goes wrong. Some might use drugs or alcohol as a way to reward themselves for a job well done or for making it though a tough situation. Still others drink or do drugs because it is what their parents did or others modeled the behavior somewhere along the way. No one who starts using drugs or alcohol intends to become controlled by the substance. No one wants to see their life a few years in the future, destroyed by the compulsion to drink or get high.

And yet it happens. Not to everyone who uses a substance, but to many who do, especially those who use large amounts over a long period of time. For these individuals, addiction creeps in slowly after months or years of drug or alcohol use. Many others who become addicted are genetically predisposed to addiction and even though other people could use the substances and be fine, these individuals lose control very quickly.

No matter why it begins in the first place, quitting an addiction is not that easy. It’s not as simple as making the choice to stop using, or being dedicated enough to stay sober. Addiction is not a choice, and it is such a powerful force that it takes professional help and a host of resources just to manage.

Disease Model

If addiction is not a choice, what is it? The disease model describes addiction the best. The definition of a disease is a “pathological condition resulting in impairment in the mental health or physical functioning of an individual.” Because addiction is a chronic condition and it impairs both the mental health and physical functioning of the person, it has become clear in recent years that addiction is not a weakness of character or a moral failing. Controlling an addiction is no more possible on one’s own than controlling a disease like diabetes or heart disease. It is beyond the addict’s power to stop using their substance.

What does this mean for My Loved One and their Recovery?

This means first of all that we can’t expect our loved ones to recover on their own. Professional help at a trusted facility with an experienced recovery team is the best way to achieve lasting sobriety. It’s not simply about trying hard enough to stop using or drinking, it is about using proven therapy techniques, counseling sessions, and coping and life skills training in order to address underlying causes of addiction and facilitate true healing. It can take weeks, months, and years to get a person back to functioning without their substance. During that time, and for the rest of the person’s life in many cases, relapse can happen and the person can go back to using in an instant. To prevent this, it is important to provide the individual with support and encouragement, and because it’s not about wanting sobriety badly enough, it is about healing and developing the skills to stand up against addiction.

What does this mean for Me?

The fact that addiction is a disease and not a choice changes the way we should handle addiction and deal with our addicted loved ones. First of all, don’t expect too much from the addict. Realize that when they talk, they are under the influence of their substance, so they will lie, they will tell you what you want to hear, and they will manipulate you in order to get what they want. This means that you as a loved one need to demonstrate tough love, setting boundaries and sticking to them. Don’t give your loved one money, or allow them to manipulate you. Don’t accept their excuses or make it easy for them to use or get high.

Secondly, and most importantly, find a treatment program for your addicted loved one. Don’t try to tackle this problem by yourself, and don’t believe the person when they say they will be able to quit on their own. A professional treatment program that makes use of proven techniques, and one that has a Christ-centered focus, is the best way to help your loved one find lasting peace.

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