Addiction Is a Brain Disease


It’s human nature to want to compare yourself to others.

You may think: I drink alcohol and I know my limits. Alcoholics just don’t know how to control themselves. It’s their choice that they don’t want to stop drinking. Just as easily, you probably infer the same thought process for other drugs out there: heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, etc. You think: drug use is a choice.

Yes, many times drug use is a choice. It’s free-will to pick up that joint, light it and smoke it. But what’s going on behind the scenes (i.e. in your brain) is not a choice. It’s not possible to control your brain structure.

I’ve often asked myself: Why is there such resistance to acknowledge addiction as a disease? The media is so quick to call the person with an addiction irresponsible, reckless, selfish and troubled. And the majority of online commenters fuel the fire by honing in on the behaviors of the disease, rather than acknowledging the disease itself. It makes me wonder: Do people understand what addiction really is?

Maybe, maybe not. My inclination is sensationalized news sells more magazines and drives traffic. That’s why news sources play up what’s going on with the Charlie Sheens and Lindsay Lohans of the world, but why do so many of the rest of us? It’s easy to blame someone for the choices they make in life, but when it comes to drug addiction, there is little choice involved. Although everyone has the potential for addiction, some people are much more predisposed to addiction than others.

When a person is addicted, they’re suffering continuously. Their brain chemistry changes causing distortions of cognitive and emotional functioning, and, even in the face of death, they continue to harm themselves. Family and friends of people who are addicted to drugs claim erratic changes in mood, behavior and perception. Many say their addicted loved one becomes an entirely different person.

Just like schizophrenics can’t control their hallucinations, Parkinson’s patients can’t control their trembling, clinically-depressed patients can’t control their moods — once a person is addicted to drugs, it’s not that different than other brain diseases. No matter how someone has developed an illness, once the person has it, they’re in a diseased state and need treatment.

Moreover, like any other illness, it affects family and friends, too. There are moms who stay up all night waiting for their child to come home. There are dads who fear that dreaded phone call telling them that their child has overdosed and passed away. There are siblings who try to remain strong as their family is slowly falling apart. There are friends who feel like their hands are tied, but are clinging to that small ounce of hope that the friend they once knew will accept help.

Ask the parents, family and friends of a person addicted to drugs if drug addiction is a choice. Go ahead and ask the person addicted, as well. They will tell you from their experiences that addiction is not a choice.

Knowledge truly is power. When we criticize and judge something that we don’t really understand, and we do it in the numbers, it sways public opinion – intended or not. With this mindset, the stigma that is attached with the disease of addiction will never go away unless we all change how we view it.

18 Responses

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    Patti Herndon

    April 21, 2011 at 3:28 AM

    “Our children are not failed attempts at being us”…

    Having a son or daughter with an addiction is certainly a challenge. But it’s not a shameful one.

    The thing about “shame”? See…That’s about “us”, the self. Our shame has nothing to do with our addicted son or daughter. When we resolve that within ourselves, (and no doubt it can be a real struggle), then, we find there is a lot less fear and anxiety and stress -A lot less focusing on and worrying about what cousin Mary or Grandpa Jack or our mother or our co-worker or “friends” etc., “think”. If we find ourselves focusing on shame…That means we have more work to do.

    Others are not living our lives. They are not the parents of our sons and daughters. Besides, we can’t control what anybody else thinks, anyway…But, then, why should we want to? We get that planted?… then we find more energy, that we didn’t know we had before, freed up. That energy once turned inward and inefficient goes outward toward more productive, recovery-purposed strategies and more peaceful moments…And God knows we need to recognize all potential moments for peace, hope-giving, and problem solving in this challenge. Can’t be aware if were stuck in feeling shame about our sons and daughters addiction challenge. Increased energy and peaceful moments, despite the challenges, despite the unpredictability that comes with addiction, can happen – And that helps us as parents, and helps our sons and daughters, and the people around us.

    Addiction is the journey. Recovery is the destination.

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    Patti Herndon

    April 21, 2011 at 2:58 AM

    DD…Thanks for stopping in. Though, I’m figurin’ nothing shared here has much chance of resulting in your developing a more open perspective. Oh…but wait. My bad. You didnt stop by to “share” and learn, now did ya? Yours was more the drive through and then the dump…emphasis on the latter ;0)

    But, even so, there is always hope. Wishes of enlightenment and a growing perspective are sent your direction. Clearly, something has compelled your closed mindedness. Gotta’ crack a window or door, Boots,…allow some light in. Read some current “stuff” about addiction. It’ll do ya good…and the rest of us, too ;0)”

    Peace to you…

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    March 31, 2011 at 5:46 PM

    Drugs and alcohol are are learned lifestyle or for social acceptance and in many can become addicted and is not a disease!

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    is my teen using drugs

    March 24, 2011 at 1:54 AM

    Nice post! it helps parents worrying from their children.Having a son/daughter who’s an addict is a shame but parents must consider it as a challenge.

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    Susan Lea

    March 20, 2011 at 7:41 PM

    To Colleen – There was a recent post on this blog called “The Scarlett Letter” that affected me deeply. In her comments, a mother talked about the treatment she received from a neighbor about her son that made her feel like she was wearing a “scarlett letter.” (I wish i could find this particular article but didn’t have any luck)

    I have felt shame about having a child who is an addict. It’s one of the toughest emotions I’ve had to deal with. The ignorance of others; neighbors, friends, family, etc., is frustrating and can make you feel bad about yourself. I’ve found that reading this blog and going to Alanon meetings has been a big help.

    Our children are amazing people; full of wonderful qualities that we want everyone to see. As long as society sees addiction as a choice rather than a disease, some people will never see our children’s amazing qualities, they will just see the trouble they’re causing everyone.

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