How Is Drug Addiction Not a Choice?
As we look at the drug addict in our life—the bad decisions, the deteriorating life, the hopeless condition—we can’t help asking, why doesn’t he or she just quit? Why don’t these people see the error of their ways? Why do they continue to spread destruction throughout their own lives and the lives of their loved ones? Why are they choosing such a horrendous existence?
The reality, which is very hard for non-addicts to fathom, is that no one actually chooses to be an addict. But, how is addiction not a choice? Don’t we choose to seek out, purchase and use these substances? Aren’t these conscious choices we make? And wouldn’t it be just as possible to choose not to be an addict?
These are logical questions from the perspective of a non-addict. But one of the defining characteristics of addiction is the absence of the power of choice. While some have the luxury of saying “no” to a tempting substance or behavior, the addict is compelled, by an obsession beyond his or her control, to say “yes,” over and over again.
If you have been hurt or damaged by an addict, it is hard to see addiction as a disease rather than a choice. You know that you can decide every day not to get drunk or use drugs, so why can’t the addict exercise some of the same control?
It would be the same as asking cancer patients why they can’t stop their tumors from growing. Why are they just letting the cancer get out of hand? Why aren’t they exercising some willpower? We would think these questions absurd as we all know that cancer is not a condition that an individual can control. Thus we are supportive, we are gentle and we extend help and care.
However, we typically fail to extend this same sort of compassion and understanding in the case of addiction and other mental illnesses. Despite the veneer of denial we may see in our addict friends or alcoholic siblings, most would quit if they could and inside are deeply troubled by the condition of their lives. They may want a way out, but they may not know where to start. They may have demons that are just too dangerous to face.
The helpful thing to know is that we’ll never lead others to recovery by badgering, criticizing or shaming. While this can be a tempting approach for one who has suffered the blows of another’s addiction, we have to remember that in the end, it doesn’t produce results. And this actually takes a lot of pressure off the situation. We are free to be loving and compassionate to an individual who is very sick without fear that we’re condoning the behavior.
But being “loving and compassionate” doesn’t mean being a doormat or relinquishing all boundaries. Nor does it mean lying or sugarcoating the truth. It also doesn’t mean washing your hands of the individual or pretending you don’t care.
Love and compassion may mean staging a formal intervention or speaking honestly with the addict about how his or her behavior is affecting you and others, or suggesting Christian drug rehab or another treatment program. It may mean deciding not to make excuses for the addict, separating from an addict spouse and getting help for you. These healthy, proactive and productive behaviors acknowledge that addiction may not be a choice, but the addict does have choices, and so do you.
Choose a better life. Choose recovery.