I am who I am.
Talking about addiction is not easy. While I am comfortable discussing it, it’s not really something I relish. But part of my recovery is sharing what I have learned about what ails me so that maybe it helps you. If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re either grappling to understand a loved one who is an addict or you yourself are trying to overcome your addiction. Is addiction really a disease or am I just a selfish degenerate? The recovery process involves worrying less about what others think of us. I do not control other people’s thoughts. I must be okay with me. I am who I am.
While progress has occurred, as it has in many areas of life that challenge society, the world still struggles to grasp that addiction is a disease. Is it?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism describes Alcohol Use Disorder as a chronic relapsing brain disease marked by compulsive alcohol use, loss of control over alcohol intake, and a state of negative emotional state during non-use.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that addiction is a chronic, often relapsing brain disease resulting in compulsive drug hunting and use, despite harmful consequences to the addict and to all those around them.
However, a current wave of psychologists are now arguing that addiction is not a disease. In his article, “Is Addiction Really a Disease?” former Harvard professor of psychiatry, Lance Dodes, points out that addiction is not like tuberculosis (not an infectious agent), or like diabetes (not a pathological biological process), or like Alzheimer’s (not a biologically degenerative condition).
Former addict and author Steven Slate, curator of the website Clean Slate, argues that substance use is a choice, not a compulsion. Substance abuse is not a disease or illness but a habit. He points out a disease involves physiological malfunction and changes in the brain. Slate contends that this is not shown in addict’s brains. You can read more about his thoughts on addiction on his website, Clean Slate.
So, is addiction a disease or not?
Shocker. I don’t know that it matters. Or does it?
“I have found that the process of discovering who I really am begins with knowing who I really don’t want to be.” –Alcoholics Anonymous
Most practicing addicts do not want to get help. Under the influence, we are sick, irrational, and incapable of giving up our addictions. Short of a life-transforming event, we do not want to stop. Truth be told, we cannot. Not on our own. Most of us are forced to get help against our will. We must hit rock bottom and get sick and tired of being sick and tired before we can straighten out the train wreck we call our life. We do not begin to understand something is haywire in our programming until we string together a number clean and sober days.
I certainly did things under the influence that I do not believe I would have done had I not been drunk or high. Was I an immoral degenerate before I took a drink or did drugs, or after? Is my behavior a problem if it does not affect you? Is a heavy substance user bad or immoral if they stay in control of their situation and are freely choosing to use, rather than acting under compulsion? Who am I to say what’s right for you? I can only tell you that for me, living a life free from alcohol and substance use is much better than it was when my world was spinning out of control.
Isaiah 41:10 (NLT)
“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you.
Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you.
I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
For me, addiction is symptomatic of a bigger, deeper issue. Staying clean and sober is not a matter of being mentally, physically, or spiritually strong enough. It is not simply a matter of will power and being determined enough to not get drunk or high. At the end of the day, I am accountable for my life, my actions, my words, my deeds. I am responsible for me. For me, the first step in accepting that accountability and living up to that responsibility calls for living an alcohol and drug-free lifestyle.
Recovery begins with me being okay with being me.
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NIV)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them–yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.