February 7, 2014

Addiction: Disease Vs. Choice.

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Surrounding the recent passing of the great actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, after a long battle against addiction, there has been a lot of talk about addiction: Disease vs. Choice.

There have been arguments over addiction being a choice, and not a disease like cancer. It was said that cancer is a disease, whereas addictions are not—they’re a matter of choice.

I disagree and this is why:

A dis-ease, a lack of ease in the mind, body and spirit manifests a physical representation of a disease, in various forms, in the body.

Studies have shown a direct connection between mind processes and biochemicals in the brain when it comes to certain diseases, such as cancer.

If we carry genes for certain diseases, we can try to prevent getting those particular diseases but our odds are increased. We can then make brave decisions to combat the diseases, for example, having breasts removed because we have the gene for breast cancer. Removing the breasts is a choice.

Addictions: face it, we all have at least one. Having an addiction implies repeating behaviors, and sometimes the repetitive behaviors we choose kill us.

We often hear, “Moderation,” and even “Moderation in moderation.”

With regard to choice and drug use, the chances of a person becoming an addict are often higher when we’ve watched our parents use or have a family history of drug use. We then become addicts ourselves or we are hyper-aware of addictive behaviors and therefore choose not to indulge. Because of witnessing the overuse, we have painful and unresolved issues and may become judgmental of those that are addicts.

We can then come to see an addiction as merely a choice, rather than as a disease.

Attending AA, NA, Al-Anon, Eaters Anon, Gamblers Anon, Sex Anon or Shop-aholic Anon meetings can help to create compassion for the addict and those who love them—-no one is born wanting to be an addict any more than one wants cancer.

If an addiction is a disease, we will have compassion for the afflicted person. If it’s a “choice,” we’re less likely to feel their pain. Suffering is the common denominator here, and no one wants to suffer, even if they seemingly have a choice not to.

Recovery, especially from a heroin addiction, is one of the hardest things to overcome and is an ongoing battle.

My brother is a recovering heroin addict and I’m proud of him.

I’ve known others who have died—one from an intentional overdose because he fought so hard to “kick it” and gave up trying to get clean. He wrote a letter that was read at the funeral pleading for his other (addicted) friends to get clean and apologizing for not having the strength to do so himself.

It broke my heart.

Detox is a kind of death itself—it’s painful and feels like the worst flu you’ve ever known. Getting clean isn’t easy. Neither is beating cancer. Both are diseases.

No addict grew up wanting the addiction and there is an underlying pain and suffering that needs to be treated and met with compassion.

To grab for the “fix” is a way for the user to address the underlying pain. This deserves profound compassion because addicts are often already wounded and feel isolation, shame, guilt and low self-hate. They feel as though the world doesn’t care about them because they have a “choice” to use, rather than a disease.

There is pain underneath every addict’s impulse to use just as there is pain under every sickness.

May all beings be happy and free from suffering, addicts included.

With the recent passing of one of the brightest lights to grace the stage and screen, it breaks our hearts knowing this great man not only played characters who had been hurt, but that on a personal level, he too was deeply hurt.

Hurt people will hurt people—mainly themselves.


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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: elephant journal archives

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