Recently I read an article entitled, “Stop Calling Your Drug Addition A Disease”, which at first made me angry but then made me sorrowful. Personally, I stand on the side that considers drug addition a disease. Dictionary.com defines addiction as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming to such an extent that its cessation causes severe trauma.” To me, if I am “enslaved” I can not freely escape my captor. For this instance, the captor is drugs.
As a Registered Nurse who worked in an Emergency Department, I have seen my fair share of overdoses and substance abuse to last a lifetime. As I recall the multitude of drug addicts I have taken care of, I can not for one second imagine that the “abuser,” as a small child said, “I want to be a drug addict when I grow up,” or “when I grow up I want to be an alcoholic.” I imagine that each of the “abusers” that I took care of had dreams and aspirations that all children have had; but once captured they could not escape their enslavement. Some say they had a “choice” and they might have had a choice initially. They had the choice to take a medication a doctor told them to take for an accident they had been involved in or a sports injury. That is a choice, and for some, that is where addiction starts. There is an imaginary line that a person crosses into addiction; the problem is that the line is invisible until you’ve crossed it and become enslaved to a substance which now controls your every waking hours.
Consider the most common drug addiction. Alcohol. Yes, alcohol is a drug; a drug not taken for an injury or an accident; but a drug made specifically to alter a mood. Without looking, I would guess that alcohol is used or has been used, at some point in their lives, by 90% of the people in the United States. Alcohol is considered to be benign by most of Americans UNTIL it is not benign, but by that time it is too late; the drinker is captured because he crossed the imaginary line into addiction. To most, alcohol is considered to be the “best” addiction to have; far better than opioids, but the truth is alcohol and benzodiazepines (Valium, Ativan, etc.), are the only drugs that can kill from withdrawal. Valium and Ativan are commonly prescribed by physicians therapeutically to help calm the nerves (change the mood) of people. Doctors do not know who will or will not become addicted to Valium or Ativan but they do know it occurs even if the patient takes these medication initially as prescribed.
I think, as a group, we need to take a good look at what addiction actually is. In fact, maybe we all need to take a look at where we are on the imaginary line continuum. We might even consider that some may never cross that imaginary line and we must, out of necessity ask ourselves why. Why do some succumb to addiction while some do not? Why do some become alcoholic and some do not? Why do some become addicted to opioids and some do not? Maybe, just maybe, there is something that exists in the addict that does not exist in the “normal” person. Maybe those who do not consider addiction a disease will someday cross the line into addiction because of an accident or an injury.
As I have said, I have taken care of my share of addicts and overdoses. I’ve talked to them and really listened to them. All of their stories have a common thread; they don’t know how this happened to them and they can’t stop even though they know their very lives depend on it. Each morning they wake saying, “I am going to stop today,” and by the end of they day they have used. Their stories are heart-wrenching IF your ears and heart are truly open.
Unlike the author of “Stop Calling Your Addiction A Disease”, I can see the parallel of the cancer victim and the addict. I have seen both bodies enslaved by a disease. The major difference I see between the two are how they are treated. One is treated with compassion; the other with disdain.