Addiction- a primary, chronic, neurobiologic disease, with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. It is characterized by behaviors that include one or more of the following: impaired control over drug use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and craving. The difference between addiction and abuse is often times unclear. It’s a difficult call to make as a family member or a close friend that is dealing with a person like this in their life, but ultimately it is a call that only the addict can make for themselves. There are tons of different sources and tests and questions out there that can be done that can help people to figure out if they are or are not an addict. In this day and age help is readily available for those who chose to take it, but most don’t and drug use is becoming more and more of an issue than it has ever been and is affecting the lives of millions of people around the world.
With that being said, is addiction a disease or simply a weakness? What are the differences between addiction and abuse? Now there are many different types of addiction out there that people suffer from every single day, not just drug and alcohol addiction. Some of the common addictions we see are gambling, food, eating disorders, shopping, money, and many more. Those are just a couple of the major addictions we see in the world that affect many more people than the average person thinks. Many of these addictions are things that people do every day, and when not done in excess are completely normal which makes it hard to see when someone has a problem with it. But don’t get me wrong, these things although they can be used normally are enough to destroy marriages, put people in jail, lose houses, lose relationships, create massive amounts of debt, and take away the life of the addict slowly but surely. My focus throughout my research paper will be on drug and alcohol abuse but much of what I will be talking about applies to all of these other addictions as well.
According to the National Institute of Health, drug addiction costs everyone in the world, not just the drug users, because everyone else pays for it. It is said that drug addiction costs Americans $500 billion dollars a year. Included in that number is the costs of healthcare, lost job wages, traffic accidents, and crime and criminal justice system costs. Many times drug use is overlooked and accepted as just a part of life and not that big of a deal but when you look at numbers like that it is hard to deny the overwhelming amount of damage that this issue does to our country and countries all around the world. Illegal drugs are not the only issue at hand, drinking, while legal, causes equally as much damage if not more. Approximately 11 million people suffer from alcohol dependency. Alcohol is more toxic than other drugs because it affects the entire body, not just the brain.
When I speak about drug addiction, I am speaking about alcohol too because although it can be used safely, when abused it is just as fatal as any other drug. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, approximately 22 percent of car accidents have involved people that have been drinking and using drugs. On top of that, at least half of the major crimes in our country are linked to drug abuse and addiction. Another study shows that approximately 30% of Americans report having problems with alcohol at one point or another in their life. A recent study shows that 1 in every 25 deaths around the world can be attributed to alcohol in one way or another. Given all of that information, it is evident that this is a scary and fatal issue that affects all of us in some way or another.
Where do we go from here? How do we know where to draw the line with abuse? There are plenty of steps to be taken to help get the word out and get people the necessary help. Sadly, nearly two thirds of people that go through drug treatment reported to have been physically or sexually abused as children. That is an insanely high number that could be lowered if we are doing our best to pay attention to these children that are crying out for help in one way or another. It doesn’t have to lead people in to a long and dreadful life of drinking and drugging there are steps that can be taken to prevent that and professionals to talk to help people work through that before they reach addiction. In many situations, the issues start early on in the childhood and teenage years and it continues to get worse as they get older. Children who start drinking in their teenage years are much more likely to develop problems with drinking and drugs then those who wait until they are 21.
There are plenty of parents that do all they can to stop their kids from doing drugs and try to get them the help that they need to deal with whatever issues they are having and it still doesn’t stop them. While at the same time many parents look the other way and don’t want to believe that their kids are doing it or don’t see it as a big issue. They think they are just kids and this is what kids do and they will grow out of it, and some kids do grow out of it and they move on and they have amazing lives, which is an example of drug abuse. Once the person get in to trouble, or someone gets hurt, or something more important comes up in life they are able to just give it up for good. Addicts can’t give it up that easily. When the person is destroying relationships, losing jobs, and giving up anything that is important to them to use, that is most likely addiction. Addiction is a vicious cycle that is hard to break, below I have a chart which shows a representation of the cycle:
I chose this chart because it helps in showing the cycle that occurs in the life of an addict. Now I will share the opinion of a well-respected doctor that has written a chapter in the book Alcoholics Anonymous. Doctor William D. Silkworth writes, “Then there are types entirely normal in every respect except in the effect alcohol has upon them. They are often able, intelligent, friendly people. All these, and many others, have one symptom in common: they cannot start drinking without developing the phenomenon of craving. This phenomenon, as we have suggested, may be the manifestation of an allergy which differentiates these people, and sets them apart as a distinct entity. It has never been, by any treatment with which we are familiar, permanently eradicated. The only relief we have to suggest is entire abstinence. (15)” This quote was taken from the book Alcoholics Anonymous and this doctor wrote an entire chapter about all of the cases of alcoholics and addicts that he had worked with and his experience with them. He says that it is a twofold disease, an obsession of the mind and an allergy of the body.
Although not all medical professionals share this view, William D. Silkworth has gone on to help many people find the help that they needed. I’m going to share a personal story about a friend of mine that relates to this topic, my friends name was Ian. Ian and I partied hard together in our high school years and did a ton of drugs and drinking, he was my best friend. His mom was the kind of mom that would let us party and she just looked the other way because she just thought we were being typical teenagers and never once tried to stop us.
While at the same time my parents were on my case all the time and trying to get me the help that I needed and intervene whenever they got the chance and I hated them for it. Long story short, Ian ended up overdosing and dying at the age of 19. Now I’m not saying in any way that this is his families fault or anything like that because he chose to do the things that he was doing but it runs through my mind often, “I wonder what things would have been like if Ian had been given the same opportunities to get help that I was given.” Ian’s life is a prime example of how drug use among adolescents is not something that can be taken lightly, and it is a very real and serious issue in our society.
As I just mentioned I have my own personal experience with drug addiction and I classify myself as an addict in recovery. As a teenager, I surrounded myself with people that drank and used just as much as I did and eventually they grew up and went to college and stopped living that life. That wasn’t my story, I continued down that path until I reached such a low in my life that I was willing to accept help. My opinion is that my body reacts differently to drugs and alcohol than that of a non-addict. I have an obsession of the mind and an allergy to these substances where once I get started all bets are off. I have found my solution in a 12 step program but that is not everyone’s story. I believe that alcoholism and addiction is a disease, and while there are doctors that back up that theory that is certainly not everybody’s belief.
Many people see addiction as a weakness, that these people have no self-will and lack morals. I am not here to say that this opinion is wrong because everybody is entitled to their own opinion. These people believe that addicts don’t have any will power and are bad people. Also that the thousands of treatment centers around the world for people to get help are just brainwash centers, and rather then get help they should just find the willpower to fix themselves. For instance one source I looked at was another one directed towards alcohol and drug addiction help. It quotes, “Alcoholism as well as addiction to anything is a weakness, not a disease. Everyone I’ve met throughout my entire 56 years on this planet that have been or still is an alcoholic or drug abuser has an underlining reason why they started drinking heavily to begin with.” This group believes that drug users and drinkers just have some underlying issue that needs to be dealt with, and once it is dealt with the problem will be fixed. I am not here to say that their beliefs are wrong, I am simply here to state the facts and my experience and with that I believe that this will forever be a controversy, and while I have my own strong believes I respect the beliefs that others may have on the topic as well.
It is hard for a person who has never experienced an issue with any type of addiction in their life to truly understand what it is like to be an addict. I understand that completely, and I can imagine how it would be difficult to try and understand a person that continues to drink or do drugs in a harmful way, and they think “why don’t they just stop?” These kinds of people don’t understand the thinking of an addict and don’t understand that they are wired differently. When someone thinks of a disease you usually think of cancer or a physical illness that affects you in that way, but addiction is sneaky and acts in a different way, but just as fatal as a disease like cancer. There are tons of ways for non-addicts to learn and get educated on this topic but many people aren’t willing to do that. Fear holds a lot of people back they don’t want to believe that this is a disease, they would rather stay stuck in their thinking and not understand what is truly going on. While at the same time there are tons of family members or friends of addicts that go seek out that help and education for themselves and are able to learn how to cope and learn how to appropriately deal with issues it may bring to their lives.
This topic is a very special one to me, because it is due to people in my life that cared enough and were educated enough to help me when I couldn’t help myself. I have an amazing life today and it is all due to the help that is available out there for addicts. I am coming up on 3 years of sobriety in a couple of weeks and I am happier than I have ever been. Three years ago I wasn’t communicating with my parents, I was staying with friends, I got arrested several times and was looking at doing time in prison and I finally got to the point where I was low enough in my life and I knew that I had nothing to look forward to that I was willing to call my parents and ask for help. I went to a treatment center out of town and stopped talking to all of my old friends which was the hardest thing I’ve ever done, but the best thing that I possibly could have done.
I accepted the help from people around me and started over new. As I mentioned earlier, I found my solution in a 12 step program so I began getting involved in that and forming new friendships and taking direction from people that knew better than me. Today these are still the things that I do on a daily basis to make sure that I stay on the right path, and keep myself busy in school and work to try and better my life. I don’t usually share my personal story because I am not proud of the person that I used to be, but at the same time I know there is hope in my story. There are so many people that are in the dark place in their lives where I once was and feel like there is no hope of anything changing, but there is hope.
I have taken it upon myself to do everything that I can in my life to try and help the still suffering alcoholics and addicts. There are so many ways to get the word out there and be there for these people that need help. Sometimes all it takes it talking with someone and letting them know that there are people that care and that help is available no matter what your circumstance is. That is partly why it is very hard for me to listen to people that think that this is a weakness and that people with addiction problems are just bad people, because that is simply not true.
Everyone is entitled to their own opinion which is why I think it is important to get the word out because the majority of people that think this way just don’t have the education or haven’t taken the time to try and learn about it. I invite all of my readers to not only read the research that I have done but take the time to do your own, and form your own opinion. The issue of addiction is not going anywhere any time soon and it is important that we are educated so that we can do our best to be of any help that we can.
-Mission Enabled. “Drug Addiction Facts.” Drug Addiction Support. N.p. 2012.
Web. 1 July 2012. -National Institute of Health. “Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction.” DrugFacts. NIDA, Mar. 2011. Web. 1 July 2012. -National Institute of Health. “Drugs, Brains, Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” The Science of Drug Abuse and Addiction. NIDA, Aug. 2010. Web. 1 July 2012. -Alcohol Addiction. “Alcoholism Statistics.” Alcohol Addiction. alcoholaddiction.info, 2012. Web. 20 July 2012. – Good Future Inc. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Pathway to A Brighter Future. Prosource Hosting, 2012. Web. 19 July 2012. – Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. “The Doctors Opinion.” Alcoholics Anonymous. 4th ed. New York City: N.p., 2001. XXV-XXXII. Print.