I have seen a lot of articles and conversations on social media lately asking the question if addiction is a disease or a choice. When I see this topic I typically put my guard up, and naturally I take it pretty personally. After all, I’m an addict. I would venture to guess that most people who just know me via social media or as an acquaintance (aka, Facebook friend) are not aware of this little fact. I certainly don’t look like an alcoholic. And my husband doesn’t look like a drug addict. In fact we look like the perfect couple who has it all together, and in many ways, thanks to God’s grace, we do. He healed us both.
I’m a working nurse and a homeschooling mom. I own my own small, skincare business, and my husband owns a local restaurant. We thrive in our businesses, our relationships with one another, and also as role models to our children, but it wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time our lives were ruled by addiction. I almost said even as writing this that we allowed our lives to be ruled by addiction, but that seemed to be putting more power in our hands than I think they may deserve.
I come from a long line of addicts. Alcoholism runs in the family, along with suicide and other mental health illnesses. Because of this fact I always knew that drinking would be a bad idea for me, but I made the choice to drink anyway. There’s that word. Choice.
Looking back I’m unsure of when choice ended and the disease of addiction took ahold of me, but it seems like the lines blurred. I don’t think I ever made the conscience decision to become so dependent on alcohol that I couldn’t go a day without it. I don’t recall growing up with dreams to sit in my garage inebriated and crying over how miserable my life had become. I don’t think I ever said, “I’m going to continue to indulge in this substance that puts my life and the life of others in danger.” I never wanted to put my nursing license or my patients at risk because I was too weak to not be hung over on a work day. I didn’t think I’d ever be stupid enough to put a five-year-old in my car and drive intoxicated to go get more beer, but I did. I didn’t desire to yell and fight with the people I loved. I didn’t want to blackout and not remember hour blocks of time. I didn’t make the choice to develop such ridiculous, dangerous, and self-destructive behaviors. By that point I felt without choice.
It had started with a choice, but somewhere along the way it became something I no longer controlled. It controlled me. In a sinful world I had fallen, and I couldn’t get back up no matter how much I wanted to. Every day I would wake up feeling like crap. I would say to myself, today is the day I stop. But then I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.
Substance addiction changes the chemical composition of your brain. I do believe the propensity to overindulge or to lean towards addiction is inherited. I think we all as human beings make an initial choice to use, but then the sin overtakes your heart. It becomes a battle, an anchor, chains binding you. No one chooses to hurt the people they love.
I didn’t drink my first six pack and say, “I’m going to become so dependent on alcohol that I have to ostracize myself from others. I want to drink so much that I get to a point where I can’t imagine how to live life without it.”
Addicted fathers don’t choose drugs over seeing their kids.
Addicted mothers don’t choose to steal from the people they love.
You don’t choose to destroy your life, self-esteem, health, and the trust of those people who care about you. Who would choose that?
And even when you choose to leave addiction behind it’s more powerful than your choices. I emphatically proclaim that I didn’t beat addiction. I believe the Lord gave me the strength to overcome it, but I think it’s still there like a lion sneaking in the brush. I realized that I was an addict, and as an addict I didn’t have the liberty to casually use alcohol like so many of my friends and loved ones do. I had to choose to leave it completely behind, but that’s not the end of it. It’s a choice I have to make every day because the power of addiction isn’t something as simple as saying “yes, I will,” or “no, I won’t.” It’s much more than that. To say otherwise is giving human weakness too much power, but to say addiction cannot be overcome is not giving God enough credit.
Addiction is no respecter of persons. It can take over the kindest young man from the best family, and it can affect the intelligent professional who carries herself with grace. Addiction may start with a choice, but the slippery slope it becomes that leads to certain destruction goes beyond any conscience decision any human being would ever make. I think to answer the question of whether something is a disease or a choice isn’t as simple as that. After all, life never is.