Perhaps the most tragic injustice of addiction is the denial of its inherent status as a disease. Countless studies continue to pinpoint genetic catalysts of the physical and psychological disorder, and yet, somehow addiction is still considered a “choice.”
Not to mention innumerable studies have elucidated the ultimate effects of addiction on the brain, characterized by cell death, perversion of keystone biological functioning, and a biological assimilation and eventually necessity for addictive substances.
We, as a society, continue to ignore these factors of addiction. In our tireless endeavours to illuminate the true nature of addiction, the same facts ring true, but they are vehemently denied.
Here are the facts about addiction which are undeniably true:
Substance Abuse & Addiction Are Different
Perhaps the age old debate of “addiction is a choice” is confused with substance abuse. Addiction by nature is a biologically compulsive necessity to use an addictive substance of habit. (It is possible to be addicted to multiple substances.) Whereas substance abuse is the use of drugs or alcohol, without being physically addicted.
Some may argue then “substance abuse is a choice.” This may have merit. Take for instance the curious experimentation with marijuana or cocaine, this is a choice. Perhaps from peer pressure or a genuine want to experiment. However, take into consideration those who are driven to escape the confines of their emotionally (and perhaps physically) state of their environmental surroundings- whether the nature of unrest is indwelling or caused by external forces.
Do these factors contribute to the “choice” argument?
Self-medication to a degree may be a choice to escape harmful psychological circumstances; the decision is a mark of absence in healthy coping strategies to help address feelings causing conflict, or the inability to remove one’s self from a harmful environment. Consider a teenager who is being sexually abused but is afraid to come forth. The common refutation against this is something along the lines of “I never used a drug because I was under psychological stress.”
This is a fallacy of shoulds and completely ignores the genetic factors of addiction. But for our immediate instance, substance abuse is not a disease- but the precursor to one. Some people who abuse addictive drugs will not experience a true substance use disorder, but with continued use and the eventual development of tolerance, they walk a fine line.
Addiction Is a Disease
Don’t take my word for it. Take a moment to watch this short video on the biological factors of addiction and the influence unfulfilling environments have in the development of the disorder.
As you can see, addiction has measurable effects on both the body and mind. After physical dependency is established- perhaps in 21 days (it varies from person to person based on natural susceptibility) substance abuse is no longer a “choice,” but a physical compulsory necessity to function normally.
Self medication then transmutes into a need as tangible as food or sleep. In fact, without the presence of one’s substance of addiction, these simple everyday tasks become labored or impossible. Chronic substance abusers are often malnourished. The genetic nature of the disease is similar to inheriting high cholesterol levels. Without a conscious awareness of one’s susceptibility for high cholesterol, the consumption of fatty foods will aggravate this inherited condition. The same is true for initial substance abuse and resulting addiction.
Addiction Is Treatable
Akin to any other disease, managing addiction and helping those afflicted by the disorder is 100% attainable. However, the cultural stigma of substance use disorders in the United States often bar people from getting the treatment they need. Only one in ten addicts will get treatment for the disorder. Many succumb to fatal overdoses bereft medical and psychological treatment. Just as someone with unmanaged chronic depression may commit suicide.
Substance Use Disorders Are Spurred by Pharmacology
Pharmacology instruments an egregious role in wantonly prescribing the population potent opiates they often do not need. In the event patients do require pain management, patients aren’t given the full rundown of medications they’re being described– and conversations of eventually tapering, off opiates and supplementing treatment with alternative pain management (complementary treatment, natural remedies, etc. ) are entirely absent.
Absent the pursuit of finding alternatives- or complementary treatment- to help manage pain is irresponsible to one’s long term health. I say this because in thousands of instances patients prescribed addictive substances develop substance use disorders and may eventually pursue illicit opiate derived drugs- like heroin.
Minimizing contact with addictive drugs, or allowing the body to self correct as much as possible with the assistance of alternate treatment and physical therapy may cut the dangers of developing substance use disorders considerably. We must always rail against any means that would limit our intellectual and physical ability to fulfill our ultimate life pursuits.
Consequently, there’s a booming population of medical workers who are heavily addicted to the opiates available to them because of their profession.
I vehemently believe people turn to substances when there is a lack of mental and intellectual stimulation (especially if it is confined internally without a mode of expression). The pursuit of self-actualization is absolutely necessary for successful recovery; I would argue the pursuit for one’s life purpose is the best prevention method we have that is virtually untapped.
Rat Park demonstrates this effortlessly.
Dr. Jo-Anne Bliss, Clinical Director of Harbor Village