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Addiction is not a choice

Get the facts before you judge someone for their illness

Hera Boyd, Co-editor-in-chief

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Addiction is more often than not misunderstood by many people. The stigma that comes with having an addiction is wrongly placed due to lack of education of the disorder.

Addiction is “the fact or condition of being addicted to a particular substance, thing, or activity”.

It’s a common misconception that all people with addiction are drug users. That’s like being as bold as to say every sick person has cancer. Someone can become addicted to anything that is used as a coping mechanism for their personal problems. For some, this is drugs, but there are also a huge array of other common addictions, some of the most common being shopping, food, gambling and sex.

People who have a family member with an addiction are much more likely to have an addiction issue themselves; however, this is not a guarantee. Addiction can be brought on by many things, including high stress levels, severe trauma or injury, exposure to traumatic events at a young age, and preexisting mental health conditions; especially mood disorders such as chronic anxiety and depression.

Symptoms include compulsive behavior, physical dependence, self-destructive behavior, rationalizing irrational thoughts and craving of one’s prefered substance, thing or activity.

The DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, is the current manual that classifies and identifies the mental disorders recognized in the psychological field. This manual does not currently classify ‘addiction’ as a disorder.  In 2013, the DSM replaced the categories of ‘substance abuse’ and ‘substance dependence’ with a single category named ‘substance use disorder’. However, this does not effectively recognize the entire spectrum of possible addiction.

Living and functioning with this disorder varies with each case. The severity levels range from “mild” to “moderate” to “severe” in the the DSM. So this means that for one person it could be a small inconvenience while for another person it could take over their entire life.

In each situation it causes some kind of negative disruption to their life. A person will feel compelled to give into their addiction and until that craving is satisfied it won’t leave them alone.

There is no cure for addiction and there is no set treatment, either. It’s a different scenario for each person depending on their addictant and their brain chemistry, as well as their willingness adhere to treatment.

There are several medications to help one through the process of stopping the intake of a substance, if that is what one is addicted to. Although, there is no magic medication to cure an addiction, behavioral and cognitive therapies can help it become easier to manage and live with.

For a person with an addiction to actually get better and progress towards a normal, healthy life, a key component is that person being willing to admit to their sickness and seeking help. At first it is usually incredibly hard to take the steps needed in order to get healthier, but with the help of a stable support system full of people that care about them, and the determination to not let this illness define them, it is completely possible to progress into a full recovery. Having the initial illness is not their fault, however they will most likely never overcome it if surrounded by constant doubt and negative thoughts or actions.

This is an extremely personal topic for me, one that I care deeply about. I’ve been directly affected by addiction and I can tell you first hand it’s not an easy thing to overcome or support someone through.

After educating myself about the topic, I’ve come to terms with a lot of things about addiction and it’s helped me to better support my loved one with this illness. I chose to speak about this because I want people to learn about addiction before judging sufferers for things they can’t help.

It’s extremely important for people who do not suffer with addictions to view people who do in a different light. They are not “some junkie”, they are human beings and they’re ill.

Most are people you talk to on a daily basis and most have suffered in some way to lead them to use this behavior as a coping mechanism. The stigma that most common people have — without in-depth knowledge of addiction — of people suffering from this only brings on a terrible sense of self-loathing and shame that pushes the person further into the addiction, into their disease.

Some addictions aren’t perceived as bad as others, however every person with an addiction deserves help, just like a person with a physical illness, and they deserve to know that it’s okay to need and seek help. Addiction is more than substance abuse, and it is not something a person can just choose to just stop. It is a disease that requires structured treatment to recover from. It is a psychological disorder that alters one’s brain chemistry and complicated one’s ability to make rational decisions and people who suffer from it should not be viewed and treated as criminals.

 

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Addiction is not a choice