Bigger Than Me – Choice V Disease

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This week on Bigger Than Me, Rocky has on a special guest. Chris Foster, GateHouse Treatment COO. The topic of conversation was one that has been plaguing those in recovery and active addiction for years. Addiction is a choice, not a disease. To see what the reaction of the public is, Rocky decided to put a question on Facebook. The results were varied. 

Many people still deem it a choice, even though there is medical evidence backing up that it is indeed a disease. Chris Foster points out that the outside looking in perspective is one of ignorance. Someone’s addiction has hurt most people who look at it as a choice. They don’t see it as this person is sick and suffering, they can only see their pain. They only see the hurt that someone has inflicted upon them.  

Rocky brings up the point of “How can we help these people understand?”  

Every addict or alcoholic had a point where drinking and using was fun. Then it became fun with problems, then only problems. Foster says “The choice that we have at first that everybody has. The first choice that we have to pick up and the manifestation after that.” That is the difference between someone who has the disease of addiction and someone who doesn’t. The description of once a cucumber turns into a pickle it can never go back. 

Take the example of the college student, drinks and maybe does some other extra-curricular activities and misses a class after a Thirsty Thursday at the bar. A regular student will say okay, that’s enough no more of that. I’ll drink on weekends or be home by 10 pm. Someone with the disease of addiction will think “how can I pass that class without being there.” When drinking and drugging start to cause problems, reasonable people will change their behavior to be able to reach their goals. 

An addict will change their goals, not their behaviors. We justify and minimize our problems to ourselves by believing we didn’t want to take that class; we didn’t want that job anyway. We rationalize our behaviors instead of changing them. For most of us, the transition to just problems doesn’t take long. The feeling that we get from drugs and alcohol was still enough at the time that the issues were ignorable. Then we’ve gone too far; nobody can pinpoint the exact moment when they the transition to addiction. 

Turn the Focus to the Solution, not the Problem 

In the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, it states that we drink because we like the effect of alcohol. We then become restless, irritable and discontent until we have that experience again. Therefore, drugs and alcohol become our ultimate coping skill. All we know how to do is to drink and use unless we have a solution. A drink does not have the same effect on someone who isn’t an alcoholic. They can have a glass of wine to relax at the end of the day and not end up drinking the whole bottle and become angry when it’s gone. 

The stigma associated with choice versus disease is a matter of education. We must work on healing our communities. There’s a group of people who wear shirts that say recovery advocate and clean up local parks. They’re not out debating and arguing; they’re just letting people know that addicts and alcoholics can change and can give back to the communities we ravaged for so long. Service is one of the pillars of sobriety and recovery. Our primary purpose is to carry the message to the still suffering.  

What are your ideas on how we can change the view of addicts and alcoholics in the non-recovery community? It’s not about changing their minds; it’s about winning their hearts. Give us your feedback and any solutions you’ve found to be beneficial!