Addiction is difficult to understand. It’s a disease that can sometimes feel like a choice (even though it’s not). It’s a disease that strikes victims seemingly at random, sparing some of those who indulge in addictive substances while ruining the lives of others. It’s a deeply individual struggle that affects the lives of everyone around us and, in almost every case, can only be controlled with the help of others.
Maybe we’ll never fully understand addiction in all of its complexities and emotional weight. We can, however, understand it better than we do now. With that in mind, let’s go over some essential truths about this often misunderstood affliction. Whether you’re learning new things or reviewing old refrains, these truths may help you.
Addiction is a disease
Perhaps the most important thing to understand about addiction is that it is a disease. Many of the mistakes that people make regarding addiction — from misunderstanding a family member’s problems and “choices” to avoiding treatment ourselves because we can “quit anytime we want” — come back to a fundamental misunderstanding: the idea that addiction is the sum of poor choices and bad habits rather than A disease.
Addiction has measurable effects on the brain, and medical experts can use medical standards and evidence to diagnose the affliction. Nobody simply chooses to be an addict, and not all addictions are the result of poor choices. Diseases are not chosen by the sick. Diseases need to be treated by professionals. Understand this, and you’ll understand addiction with a much clearer perspective.
Addiction is unfair
Who becomes an addict? Some people envision a person who tries a highly addictive substance, like cocaine or heroin, and keeps using it despite the clear dangers; a person who uses more and more until, sure enough, they are addicted.
This isn’t a typical story of addiction. In fact, there isn’t a typical story of addiction. Some people become addicted almost immediately, turning one questionable decision into a lifetime sentence. Some are pressured or forced into taking drugs or drinking alcohol by peers or even abusers. Some become addicted after using prescription drugs that they trusted their doctors and medical professionals about. Coercion, mix-ups, and massive societal mistakes like those we saw in the run-up to the opioid crisis are all possible root causes of addictions. Nobody deserves addiction.
Addiction does not affect everyone equally. Addiction is unfair. It is possible (though never predictable and never advisable) to use addictive substances for years and then quit without trouble. It is also possible to use just one time and become hooked on certain substances for life. Scientists have no idea why some people get addicted while others don’t. They just know that it happens and that addiction is unfair.
Addiction can’t be defeated alone
Addiction isn’t something that you can beat by yourself, explain the experts at the Canadian Centre for Addictions (canadiancentreforaddictions.org). In fact, most experts believe that addiction can’t be beaten at all and that, even in sobriety, addicts remain addicts. To achieve long-term sobriety, addicts should seek help from experts in addiction and mental health. They may also need specialized care for withdrawal symptoms, as some addictive substances can have extremely uncomfortable (and even dangerous) withdrawal periods. Also, addicts should seek ongoing support that helps them stay sober: 12-step programs and sponsors, ongoing visits to a psychologist or counselor, and so on.
The truth about addiction is that it’s a terrible and unfair disease. The truth of recovery is that your life can feel like your own again. Take it one day at a time, and start now.