Addiction, Choice or Disease? My Answer Won’t Make Me Popular With Some Folks

Compassionate Love Blog: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness   (c)2016  Nancy Virden, Always the Fight Ministry

Addiction and disease – are they the same?

A next-door neighbor once asked for $20 to pay for a doctor’s visit, so she could get painkillers for her sick toddler. Her daughter was playing in the driveway and looked fine. I pointed this out, to which my neighbor replied without a hint of shame or even recognition of wrongdoing, “This way we can get the pills. We can get $400 for them. C’mon, I’ll pay you back.”

History with this family was evidence enough I would never see the $20.  The bigger issue was what she was asking me to risk without apology.  I’m not going to be a drug dealer or help one conduct business; that’s a no-brainer. My thoughts focused on her use of her child, and how nonchalant and blatant was her request. It was striking as if she’d asked to borrow some milk.

Then I thought about the $400, and the desperate addicts who would pay such a price.

Today, a news report in the Pittsburgh Gazette seems to focus at least partial blame for West Virginia’s horrifying opioid overdose rate on doctors. In a recent podcast interview, I was asked if I believed soaring addiction rates are the fault of pharmaceuticals and the medical field.

My opinion forms around personal experience and limited yet significant observation. That is, we tend to run from pain yet many race toward self-destruction. Some people break old habits and change while others drown in addiction. It is easy to sit in whatever armchair fits at the moment and make assumptions about everyone else.

I believe that in significant ways addiction is influenced by pharmaceuticals and doctors. However, some people who take painkillers end up addicted while others who take the same dosages do not.  Some pursue heroin instead of recovery from painkillers.  The food industry, in general, does its best to make food addicts of us all, yet some people develop compulsions and others do not. Hard drinkers and alcoholics are not different in consumption rate- they are different in their physical and psychological dependence.  

The defining line between an addict and a hard eater/drinker is the ability to stop. I am not sure anyone knows how that line develops.  Once it is crossed, we need help.

In 12-step groups we are taught we can do nothing apart from a power greater than ourselves. The steps include complete and daily surrender to God and commitment to the spiritual changes that take place when we do that. 

No matter how long we go in recovery, we must never return to the addictive substance. That is why people become 12-step lifers. We lean on each other through sponsorship and meetings, establishing an international, cross-cultural family of support.   

It was and remains my choice to go for the fix, knowing my food addiction was driving me straight to the morgue, or to call out to God. I set my values in place and decide who I want to be. 

In my humble opinion, that is how addiction and disease are not the same, and yet there are biological factors to consider.  Addiction’s complexities do not render it easy to cure.  Judgment and stigma do not offer hope and they prevent people from finding treatment. 



NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help are yours.

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