The surgeon general recently published an article detailing substance abuse, its effects on the brain and hope for the future. It went to great length to reiterate the fact that alcoholism and chronic substance use is a brain disease, reminding everyone out there that addicts have an illness and not simply some moral compass gone awry.
Though most of us in the addiction field have known this for years, society still seems to view alcoholism through the lens of “making bad choices” and drug abuse through “not having good morals”. Viewing addiction through this lens makes it more difficult for people to get sober, as they tend to blame it on the fact that they just don't make good enough choices. It also makes it difficult for families to truly support a person in working towards sobriety because they tend to believe the person doesn’t want it bad enough, or they would clearly be sober.
I challenge each of you to go out and ask the loved one, friend, roommate or co-worker you know who is struggling with addiction the following question:
“If you had the option to simply turn off your addiction with the flip of a switch,
would you do it?”
I guarantee almost every person would say “Yes”. In fact they would scream it from the mountaintops if they had the opportunity. People don’t desire to stay addicted and they rarely have a poor moral compass. In my experience alcoholics and addicts have great moral compasses and they have severe amounts of shame and guilt about the way they are behaving but simply don’t have the support or tools to stop…. because its a DISEASE. A chronic, relapsing brain disease that society attempts to treat by encouraging people to just stop using. Ask yourself the following questions to see your bias:
Our society has a double standard when it comes to diseases. Those that are acceptable, visible and non-shaming are talked about (diabetes, cancer, heart disease). But for people with the brain disease of addiction, simply admitting you have an illness in the first place will often be met with judgment and is rarely met with an understanding that treatment is needed and its insanely difficult to quit on your own.
I highly recommend reading the Surgeon General’s report, which can be found here:
In case you don’t have time to read the multi-hundred page document (wow!!!), let me summarize it here for you:
Amber Reed, LSCSW, LCAC