Is Addiction a Disease?: People Who Are Sick Are Victims; “Choosers” Are Not Victims

is addiction a disease

A man in his late twenties visited a therapist’s office and admitted that for several years in the past he had a drinking problem. That concerned his fiancé who asked him to go see a drug counselor before they got married, just to reassure her. He said that starting with alcohol at thirteen, by the time he was fourteen or fifteen he was also addicted to drugs and tobacco.

“I can’t deny it, Doc,” Brian said, “I’m an alcoholic.” Then with some well-deserved pride in his voice he continued. “But I’ve been sober for more than two years now.”

The therapist shook his head as he asked the young man, “You say you’re an alcoholic even though you stopped drinking two years ago; how come you still call yourself an alcoholic?”

The young man had a look of surprise on his face as he answered the question. “Well, that’s what I’ve been told. ‘Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic.’”

Labeling Oneself Will Hurt, Not Help

“Really,” the counselor said with emphasis. “Do you ever hear any ex smokers say ‘Once a smoker, always a smoker?’”

The client chuckled out loud, then said, “No, I haven’t heard anybody say that. I’ve been a smoker, too, you know.”

“Yes, well, you don’t call yourself a smoker anymore, do you?” the counselor asked.

“Uh, no I don’t,” he said.

There Is a Need for a Strong Motivating Factor to Quit Using

After a minute the therapist asked, “How come you quit drinking and stopped taking drugs?”

The young man tipped his head to the side, shrugged slightly and answered, “Well, I came to the point that it wasn’t fun any more. I had a best friend overdose. He died.” Brian paused and looked down. Then he looked up again and said, “I could see it was starting to ruin my life, too. Believe me, that junk caused me so many problems. It was incredible.”

“So, having no more fun caused you to quit; that, and your best friend. Brian, does what you just said sound like you had a disease?”

Brian furrowed his brow and simply asked, “What?”

“Do you think you had a disease?”

Brian tipped his head to the side. “Well, that’s what I’ve learned. Alcoholism and drug addiction are diseases.”

It’s a Strange Disease If Choosing to Not Be a Victim Will Bring a Cure

Raising his eyebrows the counselor asked, “What other disease do you know of that all you have to do is decide that you won’t be sick any more and, after some amount of time, it goes away?”

Brian wrinkled his brow and asked, “What? I don’t understand.”

“If you had cancer or diabetes, could you just decide one day not to have it any more and it would go away, eventually ridding you of all its symptoms, just because you didn’t want to have it?”

The young man let out a large puff of air and said, “Uh … no. But what are you getting at, Doc?”

“I’m saying, alcohol and drug addiction is not an illness; nor is smoking. They’re choices. You chose to drink when you were thirteen, and when you were fourteen you chose to use drugs. You also chose to smoke. You did all that until ‘it wasn’t fun anymore,’ to use your words. And because you didn’t like what was happening to you, you decided to quit making those destructive choices for yourself, once and for all.”

Brian nodded, then emphatically said, “Yeah. I hadn’t ever thought of it that way. But it does make sense. I’m not an alcoholic for life, nor a drug addict, nor a smoker.”

It takes substantially more work than this example would imply, but choosing to call oneself a “never-to-be-over-it victim” is to lock oneself into being a scapegoat to a substance or to an addictive behavior pattern. All persons who quit have first found a serious reason to stop—maybe because of a traumatic event in life directly attributable to choices to indulge. Becoming free from addiction begins with acknowledging the truth and taking action.

Even if it were a disease, becoming free from addiction requires one thing; that is, to make different choices. But choosing to call oneself a victim of illness makes the problem worse from a psychological and motivational standpoint. It causes one to think they are a victim and powerless (another word for helpless or worthless). It takes self-confidence to improve one’s situation regarding anything in life that is worthwhile.