How To Talk About Addiction

We are finally learning that certain disorders such as depression are not only real illnesses, but are potentially lethal illnesses – and not due to some kind of personal weakness or mental laziness

It’s time for society to recognize the same about addictions, and to stop blaming the victim.

To me, addictions are like cancer. Some of us never develop a cancer, despite personal habits that “should” lead to some form of it e.g. overweight, lack of exercise, poor diet, smoking, etc.

Others may have a small cancer that’s easily excised (such as a localized melanoma).

Yet others may have recurring bouts in different areas of their bodies.

And others die, suddenly, with little warning.

Addictions are like that. Some of us have so-called “non-addictive personalities” (is that term even used any more?).

Others struggle and overcome their addictions.

Tragically, some never can recover.

Do we blame those who die from cancer? Of course not.

Yet we blame the person who is struggling with addiction, on the premise that the addiction is a choice, while cancer is not.

I smoked from the time I was 14 until the age of 22. I loved smoking, and would go through two and a half packs of cigarettes a day. Then in my early 20s, the mornings began to suck. I’d wake up with a sore, dry throat and developed a cough and runny nose (“vasomotor rhinitis”, the doctor called it).

Smoking was no longer fun. One day I just quit cold turkey. Never had another, and never was tempted.

It was pretty much the same with alcohol. As a teenager I drank a lot. Really a lot.

But as an adult, it’s something I can take or leave. In the past 5 years, I don’t think I’ve had as many drinks as some people will have in a week, or even a day.

So yes, I find it challenging to understand how I’m so unaffected, but others are destroyed by their addictions. Just like I find it impossible to understand how my mother could die at the age of 32 of cancer, while another family member lived into his 90s in a daze of alcoholism and chain-smoking Camel non-filters.

Just because we don’t understand it because we don’t personally live with the daily struggle, doesn’t mean it’s not very real to the person next to us in the grocery line, the office down the hall, or even in our own home.

Be kind. Be thoughtful. Stop blaming. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, one that may be a whole lot harder than you can imagine…. and may be a battle that could one day kill that person.

Categories: Alcoholism & Substance Abuse

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