Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Addiction is not a disease?

A friend of mine shared this article about addiction.  She made no comment of what she thought of it, although I wouldn't be surprised if she agrees with the author.  In fact, I think a lot of people probably agree with the idea that addiction is not a disease.  I, on the other hand, beg to differ.  

There was a time not so long ago when I might have agreed that addiction is caused by a lack of willpower rather than a disease process.  After all, a person becomes addicted to something by first making a choice.  You get addicted to drugs or alcohol or gambling when you choose to expose yourself to those "harmful" agents.  It's not quite like cancer or heart disease, right?  Or is it?  Can you not get heart disease or cancer by making poor choices?  Can a person be addicted to food, which is something every person needs in order to survive?  I think the answer to both of those questions is yes.  And not everyone responds to exposure to certain agents in the same way.

A food addiction or any other addiction often comes about due to a perfect storm of factors, some of which are not within a person's control.  Some people become alcoholics after one or two drinks.  Some people can drink all their lives and never be addicted.  Some people can smoke for decades and never get cancer or heart disease.  Some people can even quit smoking by sheer will power alone.  Other people are hopelessly addicted to cigarettes, even when they get cancer or heart disease.  Other people get lung cancer simply by living with a smoker or just by plain bad luck.  Yes, you can prevent being a drug addict or alcoholic by choosing never to drink alcohol or use drugs.  But what if you're in a car accident and your doctor prescribes painkillers for you and you get addicted?  If you find yourself in that situation, the prudent thing to do would be to get some help.  But what if you can't?  Or what if you don't realize you have a problem, which is a part of addiction?

I have a very good friend whose mother was an alcoholic.  When I met my friend, he was eighteen years old and had never been exposed to alcohol.  His mother quit drinking and his father didn't drink because of his wife's addiction to alcohol.  When we were freshmen in college, my friend tried alcohol for the first time.  I was there the first time he tried it.  He had a very dramatic reaction to it.  Within a year, he was a full blown alcoholic.  I remember watching him drink all sorts of substances to get his fix.  His personality changed and he became a complete asshole for a time.

But then he decided to stop drinking.  He made a choice to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on his own and is one of the few alcoholics I know who was able to quit cold turkey.  To my knowledge, my friend hasn't had a drink since 1993.  His brother and sister, on the other hand, have had terrible problems with alcoholism and addiction.  His brother, who is very bright and a graduate of William & Mary, was in danger of dying and was even homeless for awhile.  It took him years to get straightened out.  And there is always the risk that he will backslide into drinking again.  I look at my friend's history and the fact that alcoholism has touched him and his siblings as well as his mother.  While he was probably unwise to try alcohol, given his family's history with it, once he was exposed, he did become sick.  Not everyone reacts to alcohol in that way, though.

My father, his father, and several other relatives were/are alcoholics.  In my dad's case, the drinking was probably exacerbated by his time in Vietnam.  He came back from the war with significant PTSD and clinical depression, which no doubt caused him to self-medicate with alcohol.  As my dad's alcoholism progressed, he showed signs and symptoms consistent with addiction.  He hid bottles all over the house.  He was addicted to sugar and used to keep huge bags of candy in his dresser drawer.  He would get violent and angered easily.  He had poor impulse control.  Eventually, his alcoholism helped contribute to the hellish few years he endured at the end of his life.

Some people would say my dad's issues were caused by a lack of self-control and poor character.  Having known the man, I can say that underneath the addiction, he was a very good person.  He truly cared about people.  But when he drank, he became a different person.  If he didn't drink, he would experience withdrawal, which also made him a nasty person.  He craved alcohol and, in fact, would even beg for it toward the end of his life.

Addiction changes a person's brain chemistry.  In my mind, that could be considered a disease process, not unlike a person's other organs changing due to disease.  If you get cancer or heart disease, the affected organs will be negatively impacted.  The brain is no different.

Yes, you make a choice to pick up a substance that can lead to addiction.  But you can also get diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease-- "legit diseases" according to Judi Franco-- by making unfortunate choices.  And... contrary to her idiotic comments about 28 day rehabs and "cures", addiction is a lifelong problem.  A person doesn't stop being an alcoholic or addict once he or she stops abusing a substance.  That issue doesn't simply go away after rehab.  There isn't a cure for a true addiction.  You can simply learn to control it and often that will require professional help.    

My opinion that addiction is a disease doesn't mean that I don't think people should take personal responsibility for their actions.  It doesn't mean that I encourage a "victim" mentality.  It doesn't mean a person is "weak" and should be given a pass for being weak.  It means that a person with an addiction needs help and deserves some consideration and compassion.  Addictions are difficult problems to have, whether you are the addict or the addict is someone you love.  And I see absolutely nothing wrong with calling "addiction" a disease, especially if it means the addict will seek help from someone qualified to give it.

I'm actually heartened to see the responses on the article itself.  Most of the people commenting seem to have a more compassionate viewport than the author of the article, Judi Franco.  I gather she's a radio host, so perhaps her ignorant comments were intended only to inflame and incite controversy.  Maybe her article is satire.  I hope she's not really this ignorant and lacking in heart.


  1. I'm not sure exactly how anyone can believe addiction to subtances (including food) is not an illness with everything that is now known, but i hve a tendency to be closed-minded. Still, do these people think the Earth is flat, too?

    1. A lot of people seem to think they aren't illnesses. I find that they are usually political and religious conservatives who are big on shaming and blaming people for their misfortunes. It is true that most smart people don't take illegal drugs because there is a risk of addiction, but there are plenty of situations where addiction happens through bad luck or bad wiring.

      And... as I suspected, my friend who posted this article agrees with its author, although she expresses herself in a more intelligent way than Ms. Franco does.

  2. I'm sorry Knotty but I can't find a page that allows me to send you a personal e-mail, so I have to make a comment this a response to a post I'm not referring to! Anyway, I love your whole Judge Judy rant girlfriend, I get you %100. I just saw 2 minutes of her show today and it was so nasty, so vicious and so fucking ignorant I HAD to get on the internet and see if there were any likeminded people out there..when she first started she was a SMASH!! Why? Because she directed her comments at the right people, her comments were relevant, they fit the situation and she was even funny at times...20 years later her success has created a monster. Now she's just a bitch to everyone. And Byrd can go fuck himself day he walked up to a defendant, a WOMAN, and told her to shut up in a really nasty vicious way. He grabs documents out of people's hands, his face ALWAYS looks like he's taking a shit. One thing I HATE about JJ is when she insults people by claiming it's her money that's supporting them, or it's Byrd's money. EVERYONE pays taxes. She's just vile, I can't explain the physical/emotional reaction I had listening to her bully and humiliate people. Thank you for using the word cunt. I rarely use it but it has the power to be the perfect word when a situation calls for it. I am so disgusted and just plain stunned that she's allowed to treat people this way. I use to WORSHIP her! Taped her 4 times a day! And what's REALLY sad is how engaging and enjoyable she is when she's not on the show. And I REFUSE to accept the justification that she's playing a character. Bullshit. You claim it's a real courtroom and the decisions are binding? You can't have it both ways. I guess maybe she thinks now that she's proven herself to be the titan of daytime TV and is worth MILLIONS she doesn't have to be decent anymore. Anyway, thanks for letting me vent! And thanks for your spot on review.

    1. You're welcome. I don't know if you're on Facebook, but I do have a page for this blog and you can always send me messages there. You'll find the link to the FB page right under the "My Free Copyright" button on the right side of the page. Also, you can leave comments on articles older than 3 weeks. They just won't show up until I approve them (which usually happens pretty quickly).

      I admire Judge Judy for breaking into law when it was not common for women to be lawyers. I think when she was younger, she was probably more mellow. But now, she's bought in to the very crass American ideal of snark and uncivil behavior. She may be very nice off camera, but I'm not a fan of her show.


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