A longtime physician with whom I’ve become good friends once told me he had a really hard time reconciling in his mind that he had a substance abuse disorder, i.e., identifying he was an addict. When I asked him why, he said something to the effect of, “I think it’s because I’d always thought an addict had to be someone who lived beneath an overpass and scrounged for money on the street corner.”
I recall telling him I’d learned that addiction doesn’t discriminate. Literally anyone can find themselves with the disease of addiction. It doesn’t care about your socioeconomic status, the number of college degrees you hold, the career you’re in, your age or race, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, your religious or spiritual background… none of that matters to this disease.
In other words, who addiction affects can be determined thusly: anyone who has an uncontrollable urge for “more” once any mood-changing, mind-altering substance is ingested (in whatever manner).
According to the Center on Addiction:
“Addiction is defined as a disease by most medical associations, including the American Medical Association and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. Like diabetes, cancer, and heart disease, addiction is caused by a combination of behavioral, environmental and biological factors. The consequences of untreated addiction often include other physical and mental health disorders that require medical attention. If left untreated over time, addiction becomes more severe, disabling, and life-threatening.”
The point, here, is simple: Just as diabetes, cancer, and heart disease do not discriminate who they affect, neither does the disease of addiction. Anyone can be afflicted by it. And just as it would be inappropriate to feel ashamed or believe you lacked character or morals for having diabetes, cancer or heart disease, so is it improper to feel similarly for acknowledging one’s substance addiction.
I recall like it was yesterday being told (over twenty years ago, when I got into recovery), “It doesn’t matter that you’re a school teacher. Now that you’ve identified yourself as having addiction issues, you can choose to recover and find a new way of life.”
Now, as for the “how” of addiction not discriminating, I’m inspired to point to a couple of bits and pieces I’ve learned from first-hand experience over the years.
- My original 12 Steps sponsor helped me to see, early in my recovery, that I was not simply addicted to alcohol, pot or pills, or heroin or cocaine, for that matter; rather, I was addicted to any mood-changing, mind-altering substance I put into my body. In other words, HOW I changed my mood or altered my mind didn’t matter one bit! What I came to understand was this: I have a disease that produces an obsessive-compulsive reaction within me I cannot control whenever I drink, smoke, ingest, inhale or shoot any drug at all (alcohol included). And that “reaction” is to crave more. Period. Regardless of the consequences, no matter how horrific or who gets hurt in the process. Bottom line? The addiction does not differentiate or distinguish between my imbibing this kind of drink or that kind of drug… which leads nicely to the next point:
- Occasionally, people tell me, “Oh, since you’ve been clean and sober a long time, you have no idea how addictive fentanyl (or ‘today’s medical marijuana strains’ or ‘the latest high-proof vodka,’ etc.) is!” My response? “The operative words you just used are ‘how addictive’… and that’s all I need to know.” Because the fact is, if a synthesized pill or a specialized form of hydroponic pot or a flavorful new drink is involved, it doesn’t matter HOW addictive it is or how powerful it is (“fentanyl is 50 times stronger than heroin” or “compared to the pot from a generation ago, today’s is more potent by a factor of three”) – I know from my own history and track record: “One is too many and a thousand never enough.” If I consume it, I’ll open the same floodgates of the addiction that ruined my life, brought me to my knees… and into recovery in the first place!
Hopefully, this admittedly brief snapshot of the “who and how” of addiction’s non-discriminatory nature paints a sufficiently clear picture: anyone can be afflicted by this disease and it can be triggered by literally a multitude of substances.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned about addiction is this: I didn’t need to try to recover alone. Once I began seeking recovery and asked for help, the treatment, healing, and support I needed was available. All that was required was for me to make a phone call and show up with some honesty, open-mindedness, and willingness!