Substance abuse

Is Addiction a Choice?

There are a ton of folks on FB (today especially) claiming that addiction is a choice. Giving out Narcan is enabling. “Junkies” deserve what happens to them. So on and so forth. Here’s the thing, it’s because of these kinds of “opinions” that there’s still such a stigma attached to drug addiction and alcoholism. Millions of people struggle with addiction every single day and for many of these folks, they can’t or won’t reach out for help in part because of the negative opinions on addiction. They’re afraid they’ll be called weak, losers, criminals or junkies. I should know. I’ve been called all of these things and worse. I might have asked for help earlier in my drinking career but was afraid of what my family and friends would think of me. As the addiction progressed, things spiraled further and further out of control until the day I decided I just couldn’t do it any more.
I haven’t picked up a drink or a drug in over 11 years. But for many years I lived a life of active addiction because I didn’t know there was a way out. I lied, cheated and stole from those I loved the most. I spent years living on the streets and in a prison cell. It was never a matter of willpower. I didn’t want to use but somehow lost the power of choice. I had crossed an invisible line I had no idea even existed.
I’ve worked as an Intervention Specialist for almost 5 years. Originally, I assumed that I’d primarily be intervening on college aged kids that let things get too far out of control. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve intervened on doctors, lawyers, nurses, police officers, housewives, construction workers, engineers, veterans, CEOs and a whole host of other folks. Many of these folks didn’t start out by making a “choice” to use the drug. Many ended up addicted because they were overprescribed pain medication that they probably should never have been given in the first place.

Their only fault was trusting their doctor.

There are of course others too that made a conscious decision to experiment with drugs and alcohol (like I did) and things got out of control.
Here’s my point; not everyone that’s addicted to drugs is a bad person. Not every addict is a loser and a criminal. Many that suffer from addiction have an underlying mental health disorder that also needs to be addressed. So saying, “They made their choice!” couldn’t be further from the truth. These people are more than just addicts. They’re mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. They’re your family, your coworkers and your neighbors. They’re members of your social clubs and your churches.

But mostly, they’re human beings that need help. So if Narcan can save a life, what’s the harm in using it? In that moment, who am I to ask “Has this person been saved before?” “How did they end up this way?” “Is he a career criminal or a single father of three?” It doesn’t matter!
It doesn’t matter how or why that person ended up that way. It doesn’t matter if you “think” addiction isn’t a disease. If a life can be saved, if should be saved. Save your judgment for matters that don’t mean the difference between life and death.

Source: Mark Weitkamp

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