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Saturday, 13 October 2018

Addiction is an illness NOT a choice

I find the above image quite funny because of its blatant ignorance. (Also, the last sentence cracks me up because I have literally no idea what this sentiment has to do with 'making America great again'.) I think its quite sad that there are people that generally believe this about addiction; they owe too much to 'free will' and forget the power of chemical dependence that comes when someone is addicted to a substance.

When it comes to taking a drug or a drink, of course that is a choice. A person chooses to take that drug or to drink that vodka. However, chemical dependency occurs when using these substances stops being a choice and becomes a 'need'. It becomes a physical craving for the body and a mental obsession that can only be relieved through using the drug. Then comes the sensation of 'more', where the addict never feels they have enough, and that they need to keep using to stop the craving.

This is physical, not just psychological. Underestimating the power of a body's physical demands is quite naive. There are many, many, many things constantly happening in the body that we are not aware of. I am not consciously thinking about typing these words; my fingers know what to do and they know every key because I am so used to typing on a keyboard. Women can't control our menstrual cycles just by 'thinking' about it; it is a physical sensation that occurs within the body.

Substance abuse starts out as a mental decision, but as time goes on it becomes a physical dependence characterised by a mental obsession (i.e. an addiction). Twelve steps programs also describe it as a 'spiritual bankruptcy' which one can interpret as they wish. I view this as not being in touch with yourself, and feeling like you need to depend on a chemical substance to appreciate life, rather than simply being able to appreciate life on a natural non-superficial level.

Also, a major thing that people who believe addicts 'choose' to be addicted is that no one would ever choose to be an addict. Can I repeat that? NO ONE FUCKING CHOOSES TO BE AN ADDICT. Do you think I want to be an alcoholic? Do you think I relish the impact that not drinking has had on my social life? That I avoid parties and situations partly due to anxiety but also because I feel left out because I'm sober? I love the fact that I am sober (just over a year now) and I know that alcohol doesn't agree with me and that it would ruin me, but it doesn't make sobriety less challenging.

When people have an illness, it is common to deny that illness. Even now, when I feel myself getting a panic attack, I often stand ill and ignore it in hope that it will go away. This doesn't stop it from happening. Suppressing and ignoring a problem only seeks to increase the problem. The reason why many people suffering from depression, addiction, bipolar or other mental illnesses deny them is because they don't want to have them in the first place. Because it is fucking horrible. 

There is still stigma attached to mental illness, and still not a whole lot of understanding around them. Reducing these to being a 'choice' that is 'all in your head' is not only reductive and ignorant; it doesn't help the problem in any way. I agree that nowadays thanks to the internet too many people (especially younger people) seem to be 'self-diagnosing' themselves with various mental illnesses (doing so does a disservice to people with actual problems).

But if you have a genuine problem, it is not uncommon to try and fight against it on your own in hope that it will disappear, or to lie to people about it (speaking from personal experience). No one wants to be alcoholic or a drug addict, I can whole-heartedly promise you that. If we could drink or use normally and safely without getting hooked on it and leading to horrible consequences then my god we would. There are times when I wish I was just a normal social drinker who enjoyed a glass of wine now and again or shots with friends. But I'm not, and I sure as hell didn't fucking choose to be.

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I'm Zarina Macha, an author, blogger, and musician from London. I write about stuff on the internet 'cos having opinions is fun -- if you want to join the games, please note your thoughts below. All thoughts welcome, even if they're mean (just no spam links please -- can't tell you what a liability those are to remove).
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