Addiction: Lack of will or disease? (she: Camille)

Hey All, My name is Camille and I am coming to you from the beautiful Pacific Northwest.
I work in the substance abuse field and have been asked to demystify some common beliefs or misunderstandings about addiction and offer some resources to you on the subject. My goal is to assist you in finding compassion and understanding for those who suffer from addiction, and to learn appropriate ways to cope with addiction. Just to clarify, I am referring to all substance abuse addiction in this post, both legal and illegal drugs that are abused in order to get high (alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, prescription medications, inhalants, opiates, methamphetamine, benzodiazepines, food, sex, etc.)

The first myth I’d like to debunk is that addiction only happens to someone from a specific demographic description.  Regardless of gender, race, creed, ethnicity, or lifestyle choice, anyone can suffer from addiction.  Addiction can be attributed to a variety sources present in someone’s life.  Such as genetics, mental illness, early use of drugs, social environment, and childhood trauma could all be contributing factors to a person becoming an addict.  The point to understand here is that addiction is real, and nobody is immune. 

The second myth I’d like to expose here is that addiction is simply the lack of will by the abuser. This is absolutely false. Addiction is a brain disease, and there is research to prove it. This type of brain disease has to do with the stimulation of neurotransmitters in the brain, and the overwhelming craving of that stimulation. Once someone uses a substance, their brain chemistry is altered permanently. And depending on their drug of choice, they may become addicted after the first time they use. From that point forward, their brain is constantly demanding another hit of the stimulating substance. Everything associated with use of that substance (ie: environment, people, smells, emotional or biological triggers and other strong feelings) make cravings for the drug stronger. A person who is addicted to substances has to fight cravings all day long, especially if they are living in the environment where they previously used and abused substances.

According to NIDA (National Institute on Drug Abuse), addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain – they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs. * 
 

Addiction is similar to other diseases such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal healthy functioning of the underlying organ, have serious harmful consequences, are preventable, treatable, and if left untreated, can last a lifetime.*

This doesn’t mean that someone cannot recover from addiction.  What it does mean is that it is not as simple as just quitting the drug. This is important to understand when you or someone you know is trying to recover from addiction. It is not easy, and relapse is possible.  However, recovery is possible too, with a lot of hard work and support from others.
Ladies, think of a time when you tried an extreme no-carb diet for example. Our brain starts to play tricks on us as soon as we consciously make that decision to stay away from carbs. All we can think about is carbs. We dream about them. And we often think, if I just eat one little bite of a cinnamon roll, it won’t blow my diet…right? Drugs are the same way, and the brain operates similarly with substances as it does with food. Chemical reactions that happen in the brain when we eat our favorite comfort food are the same types of reactions when someone uses their drug of choice. Reactions to substances in the brain can be significantly more intense. Think how hard it would be to resist! (Who doesn’t want a cinnabon right now?!)

For me, understanding the biology of addiction is key to taking the judgment away from this disease.  Here is a link to a great article that outlines abuse and addiction in a helpful, educational, and understandable way.  When I think about who may be reading this blog I think about my peers, my girlfriends, mothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, and grandmothers.  I have had a lot of conversations with these gals about their perspectives on addiction.  Many have been misinformed.  Whether through a generational or religious bias, or just plain misinformation, many folks believe addiction is simply a lack of will to abstain.  This is untrue, and really unhelpful when someone you know is suffering from addiction.  What that person needs is to be surrounded by supportive, non-judgmental, unconditionally loving friends and family. Because they are not lacking willpower, their brain is actually working against them.  So do yourself a favor and become more informed, and better equipped to deal with this issue in a compassionate and helpful way for those you love and care about.
And perhaps in my next post we can discuss how to avoid addiction through preventative measures with the younger generations.

There are a ton of online resources for this subject.  My suggestion is to visit the following sites and find what is useful for you. Many of these sites will send you free information, and you may also find resources in your local communities:

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
  • National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information
  • The HBO Addiction Project provides realistic and useful information along with their documentary films.  
–Camille 
Mariel

Mariel

Owner & Author at Or so she says...
Mariel (mahr-eeee-elle) is a mother to six, wife to one. Loves homeschooling, golfing, cupcakes, traveling, cuddling, non-fiction books, gardening, James Taylor, and family time. This is her blog. Enjoy!
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Comments

  1. Great info, thanks for the post!

    Do y’all ever watch that show “intervention”? They follow different addicts around and then the family does an intervention too send them to rehab. It’s insanely SAD but has been so enlightening to watch. It makes you realize that it can affect any household…you see how damaging it is to lives, how hurtful, and how DIFFICULT it can be to become sober and stay sober. I’ve got two teenage sisters and I force them to watch it :) I think every school and parent in America should be showing children the reality of addiction and how super NOT cool it is to get involved.

    Anyway, ramble. Thanks again, Camille!

  2. My sisters friend used to smoke but hasn’t touched a cigarette in 15 years! He still battles EVERY DAY with the urge to smoke and he says that he is smoking in his dreams every night. Addictions are hard core and impossible to forget.

  3. My mom is an addictions missionary for our church. She is also a recovering food addict. I never understood why she was so careful with food until I got older, and understood that for her, food is her drug of choice and she has to stay away from it {bad food} just like an drug adict stays away from drugs. but it is hard, because we can’t stay away from food. She writes about addiction here lds12stepreflections.blogspot.com/
    She is such an inspiration to me.

    Thanks for your post, I think it is really important for people to understand.

  4. Thank you Camille for your post! I think this is great information for anyone to know!!

  5. Camille you are a genius and I love you!! Smarty pants. :)

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