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 first 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 father side of the family, drugs and alcohol were a big thing. My fathers parents actually killed themselves from the voices they heard in their head while high on drugs.
When I was younger, I believe around 5 years old, I remember cleaning my room excessively. Everything had to be spic and span all the time. I thoroughly 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 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 lot of friends growing up. People thought I was weird and awkward, which I was. I remember having extreme anxiety both at home and school. I never really felt safe and I blame a lot of my anxiety on the trauma I experienced from my father throughout the duration of living under my parents roof. The few things that I did enjoy doing was getting into trouble and playing sports. Eventually, as I grew older I started to shoplift by myself and with the friends I finally made. I also got a high from shoplifting. It was rewarding to me to steal something that I wanted that my parents wouldn't get me and not get caught for it. One day, I was caught for it and put into Juvenile detention by my parents to teach me a lesson. Then, I was cut off from all communication from the friends I associated with and was grounded for months on end. It was almost torture to see people at school be able to go out with friends on the weekends while I stayed at home, locked in my room. I felt like I was missing out on a social life that I worked hard to get and then it was taken away from me constantly or my friends would leave me simply for having a weird home life. While I was grounded, I remember finding a strange addiction to food. I would eat, a lot. In fact, I would binge. Then I would gain weight and got called fat and ugly by family. I 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 again. And 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 had nothing to lose. Being high off something, 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 house 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 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 at the time 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 the "shit show" of campus and I knew it. My life was point blank- 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, 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. 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), 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. But, filling my voids with quick fixes has yet to serve me well.
By the grace of God, I have began to value my life and have evolved into a totally different person over time since having my daughter. I have removed all toxic and brainwashing people from my life and boy, what a difference it has made to my recovery. It hit me like a bag of rocks on the head one day that I am no longer living for myself, but I now have a child who relies on me, looks up to me, and loves me. To some this is a "yeah, duh" thing but for someone who has constantly ran from their problems it is a real eye opener. I wasn't afraid to die, I was afraid to live and resorting to something, anything at all that took me out of my reality seemed like a healthier choice than to feel like a prisoner in my own head. In a sense, resorting to self-sabotaging behaviors was a survival tactic as contradicting as it sounds.
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"? If we want to say that addiction truly is a choice, then what message does that convey to those who are active in addiction? That they should 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 surrounding them are saying, "Addiction is a choice"? This is something to seriously think about.
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 seek help. 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. If the addiction is to food, sex, shopping, co dependency, or any other addiction it 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.
In fact, according to numerous studies worldwide, addiction is considered a disease. Many might argue that addiction is not a disease because people have proven to quit their habits without treatment. According to centeronaddiction.org, "People with a mild addiction disorders may recover with little or no treatment. People with the most serious form of addiction usually need intensive treatment followed by lifelong management of the disease. However, some people with severe addiction stop drinking or using drugs without treatment, usually after experiencing a serious family, social, occupational, physical, or spiritual crisis. Others achieve sobriety by attending self-help (12-step or AA) meetings without receiving much, if any, professional treatment. Because we do not understand why some people are able to stop on their own or through self-help meetings at certain points in their life, people with addiction should always seek treatment."
Addiction is more than just the "simple" 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" within by being spiritual. It is possible, but far from easy! There is a strong stigma out there regarding addiction and I feel that if we come from a more compassionate standpoint, we can help those who are active in addiction.