One of the biggest myths about addiction is that people are choosing to live a lifestyle that is constrained by the burden of substance abuse. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Addiction is not a choice.
People Don’t Choose Addiction
No one chooses to feel powerless over their own destiny. Addiction is a chronic disease—not a poor choice driven by some innate character flaw.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “Addiction is a lot like other diseases, such as heart disease. Both disrupt the normal, healthy functioning of an organ in the body, both have serious harmful effects, and both are, in many cases, preventable and treatable. If left untreated, they can last a lifetime and may lead to death.”
The American Medical Association (AMA) first listed alcoholism as a disease in 1956 and included addiction as a disease in 1987. The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) began defining addiction as a chronic brain disorder in 2011.
Addiction Robs You of Self-Control
While it’s true that a person makes the initial decision to drink or use drugs, continued substance abuse causes changes in the brain that impair self-control. There have been multiple brain imaging studies of people showing that substance abuse causes changes in the areas of the brain that are responsible for judgment, learning, memory, decision-making, and behavior control.
Often, people who are struggling with addiction are well aware of the problems their behavior is causing. They mourn the loss of relationships with loved ones, they worry about the lasting effects of job loss due to substance abuse, and they’re embarrassed by their addiction-related legal troubles. They simply feel powerless to break the cycle.
Some People Have Risk Factors Beyond Their Control
It is true that not everyone who drinks or experiments with drugs will develop a substance use disorder. However, this doesn’t mean that those who do are making a choice to be addicted. They simply have risk factors that are beyond their control.
About half of a person’s overall addiction risk comes from their genetics, which means that people with grandparents, parents, siblings, and other biological relatives who struggled with substance use disorders are more likely to have their own addiction issues. Additional recognized risk factors include childhood trauma, chronic pain, living in an area with high poverty, and having a diagnosed mental health disorder such as anxiety and depression.
On the flip side, some people have the benefit of protective factors that are beyond their personal control. Examples of protective factors include parental monitoring and support, positive relationships with friends, living in a community with strong anti-drug policies, and having access to enough income to provide for basic living expenses.
Withdrawal Symptoms Can Lead to a Vicious Cycle of Substance Abuse
When a person is drinking or using drugs on a regular basis, their body will adapt to require the substance to function normally. If they stop using, they’ll experience painful and disruptive withdrawal symptoms. The exact experience depends on the substance being abused, but common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Panic attacks
- Difficulty concentrating
- Heart palpitations
- Stomach upset
- Hot and cold flashes
- Flu-like symptoms
Going through withdrawal without any support is extremely difficult. A person might feel as though they’re losing their mind or going to die if they don’t drink or use immediately. This is not a mental state that allows for freedom of choice.
Recovery Requires Access to Evidence-Based Care
While addiction is not a choice, there’s always hope for recovery. Just as a person with heart disease needs the help of doctors and other healthcare professionals to manage their condition, a person with a substance use disorder can regain control over their life when they have access to a full continuum of care.
At St. Joseph Institute for Addiction, we understand how difficult it can be to break the cycle of substance abuse. Our Pennsylvania residential addiction treatment center provides medically managed detox services with 24/7 supervision to ensure that our clients are kept safe and as comfortable as possible during withdrawal. After detox, they have access to intensive therapy and a range of holistic support services designed to address the underlying cause of their substance use disorder while building the foundation for a lasting recovery. When they’re ready to make the transition back to independent living, our graduates have access to a wide range of relapse prevention and continuing care resources.
Are you ready to take the first steps toward a brighter future? Review our FAQs to learn more about our program, then contact our admissions representatives to discuss your treatment needs.