I spent a lot of years responding to other people’s emergencies; many were about addiction in one form or another. I struggled with addiction and kept the struggle to myself for many years. I was privy to many candid discussions about the people we were called to treat. Again, and again, and again the question would arise; is addiction a disease?
Yes, addiction is a disease. I won’t bore you with the evidence that has resulted in the designation, and allowed medical professionals to treat people afflicted with it as patients rather than people who refuse to help themselves. The evidence is there for those who choose to look. The evidence is abundantly clear for those who did not choose to live with it.
If I had a drink for every time I heard a provider say something akin to “nobody poured the whiskey down his throat,” or “I didn’t put the needle in her arm,” I could be drunk and high for three lifetimes. The only way to avoid developing an addiction is to completely abstain from that which addicts us. We did not know that we would be the ones with the addiction markers when we took a swig of our dad’s beer, or followed doctor’s orders and took those pain pills as prescribed. And those of us who unwisely followed the path of illegal drug use? Nobody thinks they will be the one who loses everything-even their lives, when they make the conscious decision to put that needle in their arm.
So yes, nobody poured that whiskey down our throat, or put that needle in our arm. But those who refuse to accept addiction as a disease might consider that they too have done exactly what we have done in one form or another and managed to let it go. They are not better people, or stronger willed, or have more self control. They are simply not prone to addiction. Because addiction, like it or not, is a disease.
So, what to do if you are afflicted?
Treat the disease. Treat it like you would cancer, diabetes, heart disease or Parkinsons. And, most importantly, treat it aggressively. Do not assume addiction will run it’s course. It can be tempting to wait for somebody to come and rescue you. Or to hope that a miracle cure will appear. But at the end of the day, treating your addiction is up to you.
Use every resource at your disposal to combat it, learn to live with it by knowing that you are doing everything in your power to keep it at bay. Trust the experts. People have dedicated their lives to developing treatment and strategies to combat the things that shorten our lives, or make the lives we lead less than enjoyable. Listen to them. Be compliant. Be proactive. Take your addiction every bit as seriously as a diagnosis of any other life threatening disease. And make no mistake; addiction is just as deadly.
Part of the difficulty in keeping the disease of addiction in remission comes from our own doubts that what we are suffering with is legitimate. Guilt stemming from the behaviors that fuel our addictions lead to shame, which makes our daily existence painful, and to relieve that pain we do what we do best; feed our addiction. So quit beating yourself up, understand that people who do not understand do not have to, they are free from our curse and will never get it. There is no shame in disease, no guilt in suffering from the effects of disease, and no reason not to treat the pain it brings us.
Treatment is available, effective and in many cases, a life saver.
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