One of the most common questions asked when dealing with a loved one who is suffering from addiction is whether addiction is a disease or a choice. According to the DSM-5, The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder, alcohol and drug addictions are a mental illness. Signs and symptoms of substance abuse include insomnia, slowed coordination, rubbing the nose excessively, track marks on arms, legs, hands, and feet, rocking back and forth, compulsive lying, car accidents, frequent absences, and much more. All of these symptoms do not coincide with normal behavior, or happen by coincidence, these are cries for help. Substance use and substance induced disorders are classified as mental illnesses, however it is the symptoms of this disease such as manipulation, irritability, and loss of interest in the home that divide families and end in broken homes.
How can addiction be classified as a disease when everyone possesses the power of free will? Everyone does possess the power to make their own decision, however substance addiction goes much deeper than the “Just Say No” campaign. Two different people can make the same decision to drive a vehicle without wearing a seatbelt, one driver can arrive at their destination safely, and the other driver may never get to see their family again. Two different people can go to the same bar, one person can order one drink and be satisfied, and the other person can drink the whole bottle of liquor and still need more. Addiction depends on many other factors beside a choice. In fact, genetics, personality, and history play a larger role in the disease of addiction.Children of addicts statistically have a higher probability of developing a substance use disorder later in life than children of non-addicts. People who suffer from other mental disorders such as anxiety and depression also have an increased chance of evolving an addiction. Lastly, patients who were prescribed opioid medications in the past have a higher risk or forming an addiction if prescribed similar medications in the future because their brain receptors have already been positively exposed to the substance.
My personal opinion of addiction comes from my experience with my mother. I can relate to people who say, “addiction is a choice” because at one time that was my thought process. The way my mother acted when she was using made me hate her, and what she did to my family while using made me hate her more. I needed to grow-up and realize what did I want in my life. I wanted a relationship with my mother and I was not going to lose it to heroin. I wanted my mother back, and yet my mother’s addiction had turned her into a monster I wanted nothing to do with. If I wanted my mother to be healthy, safe, and back to her normal, quirky, funny self, I had to step up and help her. Just like everything in life goes, it is far from easy to help an active addict, and it requires immense patience.
My mother was the master of manipulation, in fact, she could be getting high, crash a car, get arrested, and make me feel guilty about it. Manipulation and lies can turn a family on one another very quickly, and that was exactly what had happen to mine. The most important thing that had to be constantly reminded to me was that manipulation was a symptom of disease. An addict will sell their first born child if it gets them their next fix, but the key is to be strong enough to not take anything personally.
During my mother’s active addiction, I was 14 years old and my younger siblings were 6 and 7. This addiction struck our family hard because my mother’s disease resulted in her abandoning her children, and the rest of my family which included my grandparents and aunt and uncle, to pick up the slack. How can a parent abandon their children? My mother would never turn her back on her family, but addiction does not discriminate, and her disease altered her mind and switched the order of her priorities. So the next question would be, how do you continue to love someone and support someone who would rather stick a needle in their arm than say goodnight to their children? There is no answer. Some people can never forgive, and some people can never forget and move past the past, especially when children are involved. The moral of this blog is that if you want to help someone with an active addiction, or you want to fix a relationship with a recovering addict, you have to differentiate the disease from the heart of the person. The only way we can help people who have been affected by addiction is to stay open minded, be compassionate, and listen. Drugs destroy lives, knowledge can cure them.
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