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Disease vs. Choice
Have you ever battled with the idea that maybe being a drug addict is a disease and not a choice? Or that it is a choice and not a disease? This topic is one of the most controversial subjects to discuss because there are many different opinions when it comes to deciding whether it’s a disease or choice. Some researchers have taken a stance and reported that drug dependence is a disease while other researchers report it as being a choice. My stance with this, even after researching, is that being a drug addict and or abuse is ultimately a choice.
The moment we are born we all are born with free will. The things we choose to do at what ever age or time in our life is a choice. We make our own decisions to either say yes or no. Whenever those boundaries are crossed that’s a choice being made. By taking into account a first hand story and interview from a woman that used to be addicted to drugs along with the information presented by researchers on both views of addiction as a brain disease and as a choice, I will argue against drug addiction being labeled a brain disease.
In today’s society it is almost impossible for anyone to say that they do not know someone who is involved in drugs in some sort of capacity. Some of us may know of someone that is a drug addict, ex- drug addict, or even someone that is contemplating drug use. However, no one gets involved with drugs at any point in time without first choosing to do so. With just that first decision and act of actually using, many people ultimately find themselves addicted to drugs or even drug abusers. Several people don’t know that there is a difference in being addicted to drugs and being a drug abuser. Although neither of the two is any better than the other, there is still a difference. According to Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior the thirteenth edition by Carl L. Hart, Charles Ksir, and Oakley Ray, drug addiction is when someone compulsively uses a substance, despite its negative and sometimes dangerous effects. Drug abuse is when someone is using a drug excessively, or for purposes which it was not medically intended (Hart, Ksir, Ray). However, someone can abuse drugs without being addicted but the opposite is not true. It is not possible to be addicted to drugs without abusing them. Once that imaginary line has been crossed that spiral downward begins to take place in one’s life unless the individual chooses to not take that path.
Drug use, like all other choices, is influenced by preferences and goals. It is not gender specific and affects people of all age groups and economic levels. Continued drug use alters good judgment and leads to other risky behavior such as making a decision to drive a vehicle, have unprotected sex, or participate in activities one would not normally undertake, if not for being under the influence of drugs. Those who are addicted or are abusers fail to fulfill their obligations at school, at work, to friends, and even family members. This is all a familiar scene for Kathy Thomas, a woman that used to be addicted to drugs and now have been clean for twenty- one years. She recalls upon the time when she first tried cocaine. Kathy states in the interview that she had just gotten into a fight with her husband, at that time, and as a result of that fight and how she was feeling she made a choice to let someone easily convince her to try cocaine. Eventually Kathy wanted to try the drug again and from there on allowed for her self to become hooked on the drug. She chased that high constantly for two years. Throughout the two years she struggled with the idea of wanting to quit but still wanting to feel that first high again. She remembers inheriting some money from her grandfather’s estate and blowing approximately one thousand dollars on cocaine within a matter of twenty-four hours. She became very neglectful towards her kids along with her other responsibilities. Kathy states that the circumstances that lead up to her going into rehab was the scare she received from being involved in a drug raid and realizing that if anything happened to her then she would have no one to care for her kids. Those two things frightened her enough to get clean and remain clean. In the interview with Kathy she was asked if she believes whether drug addiction is a disease or choice. Kathy responded by saying that she believes it is a choice because she was not forced into using drugs and that she made those choices to do the drug each and every time while realizing how she and her family were being affected. Ultimately it was something she wanted to do and because of her drug use she allowed for her life to be turned upside down. When asked if she accepts full responsibility for her actions she answered, “yes, because it would be wrong to actually blame others for my actions or on the idea that it may a brain disease when in the end it was all by choice just as it was my choice to get clean” (Thomas). While taking into account real life circumstances from an ex- drug addict on drugs as a choice, let’s look into what some researchers have founded.
Authors of Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior report that until the 20th century, the most common view was probably that dependent individuals were weak willed, lazy, or immoral, then medical and scientific studies began of users. Through those studies they believed that it seemed as if something more powerful than mere self-indulgence was at work, and the overall view began to be that dependence is a drug induced illness (Hart, Ksir, and Ray 34). But to add insult to it all, Alan Leshner, the former director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse at the National Institutes of Health, compares having an addiction, although knowing that it begins with a clear voluntary decision, to that of someone with schizophrenia because they cannot control their hallucinations and delusions as well as to someone that has Parkinson disease because they cannot control their trembling (Leshner). First let’s get an understanding of what disease means. Disease is a particular destructive process in an organ or organism, with a specific cause and characteristic symptoms; specifically; an illness or ailment (Webster). With this in mind how can one compare any disease to that of a drug addict? Someone with a heart disease, schizophrenia, Parkinson disease, or any other disease does not choose to wake up one day and say that they want to have their diseases however a drug addict does choose to use drugs. No matter how it ultimately affects the user they were affected because of their choice to use.
Jeffrey Schaler, a psychologist and author of Addiction is a Choice, views drug addiction as a choice and is very critical of treatments that “teach” patients that they are not in control of their behaviors (Schaler). However, the Drug Addiction Support website states that the person is no longer in control of it and cannot break free of the disease’s power and that “thing” that says stop isn’t there anymore (Drug). If this were true then what about those that voluntarily decide to get clean? And if this were true then we wouldn’t have stories like Kathy Thomas’.
Stanton Peele, a psychologist and source used in the Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior the thirteenth edition, argued that substance dependence does not have many of the same characteristics of some classic medical diseases. He states how we can’t X-ray or blood test to reveal the underlying cause or even that there is an underlying cause because all that is present as far as symptoms is excessive involvement. Peele suggests that if substance abuse is a disease then gambling, excessive sexual intercourse, and overeating should also be seen as diseases, but in this sense it demoralizes our normal understanding of the concept of disease. Therefore, stating that substance abuse is like a disease in many ways is ultimately different from insisting that it is a disease (40). Society labeling drug addiction as a brain disease gives drug addicts a way out of taking responsibility for their own actions. My position with this is that they will likely continue to use because they will fall into the stigma that they use because they have a disease and they can’t stop. There are so many things that happen to a human in life that are truly out of our control but unless one is actually held at gunpoint to use drugs then this is one thing that we can control. But even in this scenario if one is forced to use drugs then once free of the torment the victim ultimately has a choice of continuing to use or to quit. Schaler believes that most of the drug addicts resort to using drugs because of problems in their life that they are trying to run away from. Therefore, if one brings forth their problems that they are trying so hard to avoid and learn different ways of coping with them then they are more likely to have a successful outcome (Schaler).
The Drug Addiction Support group suggests that whatever the drug of choice, intervention and treatment are necessary for addicts to return to a healthy lifestyle (Drug). When looking back into Kathy’s story and interview she expressed that there are factors that a drug addict needs to put in place in order to remain clean and drug free. She stated how she had to make choices to change the type of people she hung out with, the type of places she went to, and the things that she did that lead her to use drugs (Thomas).
In summary using drugs is a willful commitment or dedication, just like joining an exercising club or committing your self to complete a college education. While heavy consumption of drugs is often foolish and self-destructive, it is still a matter of personal choice. Drug dependence has no specific preference on which person is affected. Bad people are drug addicts, weak people, good people, nice people, well-educated people, the blue collar, the rich, and the poor. People decide their own fate when it comes to drug usage. Labeling drug addicts as having a brain disease is not fair to those that truly do have diseases and made no choice to contain their conditions. Those that are addicted to drugs need to accept responsibility for their choices. Every single time someone picks up drugs and does them then they are choosing to do so. No one else chooses that for them. Those that have successfully gotten themselves into a treatment center or sought other ways of rehabilitating themselves have done so because they chose to. Just as well, when one relapses it is because they chose to go and use drugs again. Once it is understood that drug addicts are choosing to do drugs and that it is not some “force” keeping them from stopping then maybe there will be more drug addicts taking responsibility for their action. However it may be, I will still hold my stance in saying that being a drug addict and or abuser is still a choice.
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