Disease Or Choice?

I received these emails over a year ago:

“I am sick of hearing addiction is a disease! It is a choice! I have been clean/sober for over 20 years. I made a choice! I chose to put a needle in my arm. I chose to get drunk because I could not handle what life gave me. Then I chose to get clean and stay clean. Life is all about choices.”

And another: “Addiction is a disease. Recovery is a choice.”

I’ve entered into this debate many times, and I use this situation as an illustration:

A bunch of kids are at a party and heroin is offered. One kid experiments with it and can’t let it go. He gets hooked, looks around to get it, keeps taking it for the feeling it produces. He becomes addicted to it.

Another kid at the same party does the same thing, even likes how he feels when he takes it, but is able to heed the warnings he hears and makes a choice to walk away from it, never tries it again.

The first kid may have the addiction gene in him already and taking heroin just activated it. He didn’t choose to be an addict. He just was. But he still has a choice about recovering from his addiction.

The second kid doesn’t have the inclination toward addiction. That’s why it was easy to say no to it and walk away from heroin.

Both of these women who emailed me are right. I just think we all get bogged down in semantics.


On a more personal level, I see the difference in my own family. Both of my daughters have experimented with drugs. Sadly, Angie is an addict (passed down through four generations in my family).  Except for brief periods when she was in rehab, she hasn’t been able to walk away. My other daughter is not an addict and she doesn’t want to waste her life the way her sister has (Angie’s “choice”). I’m sad to be losing Angie to this terrible disease, but I’m thankful that my other daughter has been able to “choose” more wisely.




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