As someone who is currently in active recovery from addiction, I have pondered the answer to this question myself, 'Is addiction really a choice?' And I will get to my thoughts on this in a second but first, I wanted to share with you my background story...
Before I even talk about my addictive personality, I want to state that addiction runs deep in both sides of my family. On my mothers side, we have major alcoholics and chain smokers. On my real fathers side of the family, drugs and alcohol were a big thing. Apparently, my fathers parents actually killed themselves from the voices they heard in their head while high on drugs.
When I was as young as 5 years old, I remember cleaning my room excessively. Everything had to be ‘spic n’ span’ all the time. I enjoyed the feeling of having my belongings in order... I was borderline obsessed with it. As I grew a bit older, I remember getting involved with a small group of friends who would pull pranks on people. We would throw things at moving cars, jump on peoples roofs, ding dong ditch, trespass, steal street signs, the list goes on...
Eventually I was banned from all communication with some of these friends by my parents. You could say we were just stupid kids looking for trouble and attention but I personally remember having a 'really great time' with these friends doing these things. At the time it was funny, it was obnoxious and bold, and I felt adrenaline rushes that I wanted to keep feeling over and over.
I didn't have a ton of friends growing up, just a few. I was told that people thought I was weird and awkward, which I can agree, I really was socially inept. Social anxiety was seemingly debilitating me both at home and school. I never really felt safe and I do blame a lot of my anxiety on the trauma I experienced from my father throughout the duration of living under his roof. The few things that I did enjoy doing was getting into trouble and playing sports. As I reflect back on this time period of my like, I can state that the more abuse that I endured, the more rebellious I became.
In high school while I was grounded, I also remember finding a strange addiction to food. I would eat a lot. In fact, I would binge. I also started to sneak out and go to parties with friends where I would drink and dabbled into some drugs, then, I would get caught and grounded once more. I could go on and on about how I would continuously keep trying to chase a high of some sort regardless of the consequences... why? Because, I felt at the time, I had nothing to lose. Being high off something, whether that be anywhere on the spectrum from natural adrenaline rushes to being high on hard drugs, anything at all was far better than my reality...I wanted to be free and in my mind I thought, who cares about the consequences when I felt like I have been living in trouble my whole life anyways. Trouble was nothing new to me.
Later, I eventually left my hometown and moved onto college (surprisingly, I made it to college). I was free (so I thought) until I started to excessively drink and dabble into some more drugs. At the time, it was ‘awesome’ to be able to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted to but it got to the point where I would get belligerently drunk and hear stories the next morning of a fight I got into, a carpet I puked on, or something messed up I said or did and not remember much at all. I would make a fool of myself to the point where I was the one people DIDN'T want to be around when drinking. I wasn't coherent during many of these incidents so I didn't feel the magnitude of ruckus I caused until it started to really come around and bite me. I was told I was the "shit show" of campus and I even knew it myself. My life was unmanageable and I was hurting those around me as well. Yet, I didn't know what was wrong with me. I didn't know how to get help. Help? Help for what? I couldn't even admit I had a problem. How could I be the one to need help when I was chained down from the emotional distress caused by my parents. In my mind at the time I thought, I wasn't the one who needed help- they needed help!
Eventually my emotional state and lack of control landed me in jail two times. The first was in a sense, a slap on the wrist. The second, was a definite wake up call. I was dismissed from my college volleyball team, made the newspaper, someone I once held dear to my heart left me (rightfully so, I was a monster), I had charges on my record, and I had no idea what would happen from that point on... I was looking at homelessness. Fortunately, after jail, I was admitted into rehab. Rehab was where recovery was first introduced to me. It was a place where my deepest darkest feelings and memories from childhood were validated for the first time ever (to some extent of course I still longed for more closure), I could catch a breather from the chaos I stirred up in the outside world, and it was also the time I admitted I was powerless over drugs and alcohol along with being diagnosed with major depression, anxiety, and C-PTSD. Oh, and how could I forget? The best part! I met other girls who had very similar backgrounds and were diagnosed with the same mental illnesses as me. I no longer felt so alone.
Since rehab 4 years ago, I have relapsed on mind altering substances and old behaviors many times (whether this was a relapse on a single drink or when I was in bad places, too many). I let the pain from my past discourage me time to time. I have slipped into "survival mode" and resorted back to the old things that I knew were quick fixes to my problems. By now, I know that filling my voids with quick fixes has yet to serve me well.
Now, I don't know if you think addiction is a choice or not... But, after having read my personal background story do you think that I chose addiction? Or perhaps many forms of addiction found me in the depths of my despair? Or should I say, partaking in unhealthy behaviors was my brains natural way of seeking "safety" and "comfort"?
Personally, I believe that if we as a whole continue to say that addiction is a choice, I encourage you to reflect on the type of message that is being conveyed to those who are active in addiction... is it really that simply for people active in addiction to just 'snap out of it, suck it up"? Do people who are active in addiction feel like they can get their foot in the door to the help they need if people are standing in front of the door (metaphorically speaking) saying, "Addiction is a choice"? I mean, this is something to seriously think about. If we as people continue to show a lack of compassion for hopeless, broken people then we can expect for them to remain hopeless and broken.
Do not get me wrong, I do firmly believe that once you are in a place where you feel that your life is unmanageable and you cannot carry out a healthy and happy lifestyle because you are chained down by addiction and you are confronted with resources for help that it is then a choice to pursue the help available for use. However, for many, it takes years to get in a space where they are open to receiving help from the unhealthy crutches they have been using for a long time.
Addiction is rough. If we are talking about addiction to substances, they can alter your brain and body to the point where you can physically and mentally crave the next high and if you don't get it, you go through withdrawals and possible death. Whether the addiction is to food, sex, shopping, a person (co dependency), or any other addiction can wipe you of all things good (relationships, personal belongings, finances, and your overall well-being) putting you in an even more depressed state, making you feel even more like a piece of 'crap' and the only thing that could possibly make you feel better would be to seek that old safety and comfort net and... get another high.
Addiction is more than a choice. There are other factors behind it like genetics, environments, emotions, etc. However, it has been proven that it is very possible to rewire your brain and cope by using healthier choices and feeding that "beast" withing through a connection with God. It is possible, but far from easy!