marilea.rabasa@gmail.com

The Power Of Words

From an old Facebook thread, this mother’s comment: “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. I chose to get clean and stay clean. Life is all about choices. I did not choose this for my daughter, she did! What I need to do is take care of me today. I choose to let her go no matter how much I love her!” My response is this: This may be a problem of semantics, but it also involves the old chicken and egg confusion. Which came first?  I think the question “Is addiction a disease or a choice?” oversimplifies: I think it’s both a disease and a choice. The soul sickness that most addicts have—from which they seek relief via drugs, alcohol, food, gambling, etc.—is an emotional condition. Call it depression. But when addicts self-medicate with a substance, then the substance often takes over in the body, creating a craving. Then it’s physical. Then it’s addiction. So I think the mother on FB is saying that there is choice involved: the choice to fight the disease and go into recovery. Many addicts do just that. But there may be a genetic predisposition in some people to be vulnerable to addiction. In any case, the American Medical Association has stated that addiction is a brain disease. And what people choose to do about it—or any disease—is a matter of choice....

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...

The Wolf You Feed

“I am sometimes at odds with my recovery groups about the nature of addiction: is it a disease or a choice? I don’t want to force my views on them. There’s a wonderful Cherokee tale told by a grandfather to his grandchildren: ‘There’s a battle inside all of us between two wolves. One wolf is jealousy, greed, dishonesty, hatred, anger and bitterness. The other wolf is love, generosity, truthfulness, selflessness, and gratitude.’ ‘Who wins the battle, grandfather?’ ‘The wolf you feed.’ Insist that our loved ones are choosing to be addicts, that they want to stick a needle in their arm and live in a gutter, and we feel justified in our anger and our bitterness. Keep feeding those feelings, and they will consume you. I choose to believe that my daughter is wired differently and is prone to addictive disease. That’s no surprise, since four generations in my family have all had addictive disease in varying degrees.  For whatever reason we still are unsure of, whatever life stresses beckoned her into that dark place, she became a victim of addiction.” ~excerpt from my award-winning memoir A Mother’s Story: Angie Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, by Maggie C. Romero (available on Amazon) Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, has said: “I’ve studied alcohol, cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, marijuana and more recently obesity. There’s a pattern in compulsion. I’ve never come across a single person that was addicted that wanted to be addicted. Something has happened in their brains that has led to that...

Addiction Is A Disease

  From Sharing Experience, Strength and Hope, September 5: “I have learned that addiction is a disease. It may never go away, but with the help of my Higher Power, I can learn to accept it and then try to live with it. I once heard that addicts need special help when they were ready for recovery. Immediately, I agreed because this is what I wanted to hear, so I enabled, paid her debts, and manipulated her through her crises, thinking that this would keep her clean. What I did not realize is that I was doing this with expectations. When it did not work, I became angry. Going to Nar-Anon meetings, I learned about the effects of manipulating and enabling. Thanks to the program, I am able to make decisions and set boundaries in my own way, and in my own time. I believe that by dealing with the suffering and challenges in my life, with dignity and courage, ultimately good will come from it, even though it may not always be apparent to me.” “All will be revealed,” they say in one of the programs. I don’t know what will come to me in the future, but I do know that living “with dignity and courage,” something I was never able to do before I came to the rooms, has helped me to grow and expand in my understanding of the world and the people in it. I will appreciate all that I have in my life and enjoy it, one day at a time. I will do my best to live well. I “won’t leave before...

The Debate Continues

From Courage to Change, March 24: “When I accept that alcoholism is a disease, I am forced to face the fact that I am powerless over it. Only then can I gain the freedom to focus on my own spiritual growth. ‘A family member has no more right to state, ‘If you loved me then you would not drink,’ than the right to say, ‘If you loved me you would not have tuberculosis…’ Illness is a condition, not an act.” The NIH (National Institute on Drug Abuse) has stated: “Addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive behaviors.” The debate continues: is it a disease or a choice? A person who has the disease, before they know it, might try a dangerous drug or alcohol and become hooked. Another person who doesn’t have addictive disease might experiment in the same way; but he can walk away. Disease just is; you either have it or you don’t. Choice is what the addict decides to do about it: get help or not. I have two daughters: Angie has been a drug addict for fifteen years; today she chooses to continue in her disease. I have another daughter who has also tried drugs a few times; but she walked away. She chose to live healthfully. Which one of my girls is an addict? Accepting that addiction...

Accepting Addiction As A Disease

“Learning that addiction is a disease offers us a new understanding and suggests that compassion could replace anger and hurt. We can spend our time wishing things were different but must accept the fact that we have no power over another human being. We need to care enough about ourselves to give up the struggle over which we have no control. We may have tried many things such as keeping score, pointing the finger and blaming others in order to keep from feeling so much pain. No matter how harsh reality is, we can learn to accept each new day with confidence. Accepting addiction as an illness helps us realize we cannot waste action and energy in fighting the battle but instead we can seek recovery for ourselves.”   Is it a disease or a choice? I’ve entered into this debate many times. But I’ll leave the final word to the experts, one of whom, Nora Volkow, I quoted in my memoir: “Insist that our loved ones are choosing to be addicts, that they want to stick a needle in their arm and live in a gutter, and we feel justified in our anger and our bitterness. Keep feeding those feelings, and they will consume you. I choose to believe that my daughter is wired differently and is prone to addictive disease. That’s no surprise, since four generations in my family have all had addictive disease in varying degrees. For whatever reason we still are unsure of, whatever life stresses beckoned her into that dark place, she became a victim of addiction. Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National...