Dear Ann: Why do people blame the addict for their disease while not blaming people with other visible diseases?
The World Health Organization and the Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons deem addiction a disease.This fact is not in dispute. People tend to think addiction is a personal choice.
Addiction is horrible and hellish.It is not something anyone chooses.
Picking up the first drink or drug may have been deliberate but when true addiction kicks in, choice is no longer an option.Addicted brains are hijacked and no amount of personal resolve can overcome this powerful biological drive.
Imagine trying to stop breathing; it will never happen on will power alone.
The difference between addiction and other visible diseases is that addiction has observable actions which tend to hurt surrounding people.If I have diabetes, you don't see my high blood sugar hurting others. I don't cheat, lie, steal or sell my body if I have diabetes.I do not conduct crime or break into houses.
The behaviour of addicts/alcoholics hurts other people - mothers, fathers, children and sisters; even strangers are impacted by drunk driving.These observable actions are why people blame addicts.When you pick up a cup of tea, I tend to think this a personal choice. When you pick up a drink, we tend to think this is also a personal choice.
People hurt by addicts direct their anger and pain onto to the person causing this.Many say "if you loved me enough, you would just quit." Unfortunately addiction isn't about loving or not loving another.If love could cure illness, there would be no diabetes, no cancer and no addiction.
Addicts hurt people.
Hurt people hurt people.
When hurt, people lash out at addicts and call them weak willed and immoral.Unfortunately the lying, cheating and manipulative actions are indicative of the substance being used, not about the person themselves. People tend to confuse alcoholic rage as being the alcoholic. It is actually the alcohol, the drug which causes the behaviour.Society confounds the two and tends not to separate the person from the substance.
When a young child acts out, we are taught to separate the behaviour from the person.We tell them, "I love you but not your behaviour." This should be true with addiction: "I love you but not your disease" (including addictive behaviours) but sadly it is not.
What addicts need most is less stigmatization.People do not seek help when judgment prevails.This is why it is important to be aware of the facts: aqddiction is not a lifestyle choice.Addicts who are actively ill already hate themselves enough without having more judgment from you.
As a closing thought, consider your child falling on the floor with a seizure--urinating and defecating on themself.Consider your mother having had a stroke with verbal profanity now coming out.
These two conditions would be not be met with judgment or anger, nor would they be considered a personal choice.
Sadly, addiction is.