A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference with a variety of health professionals (most of whom were doctors and nurses). One of my colleagues discussed the fact that addiction is a disease (recognized by the American Medical Association in 1956), one of many points discussed about the current opioid crisis. Afterwards, I was able to have conversations with people that specifically asked whether I thought addiction is a disease or a choice. Because I have seen the research done, worked with countless addicts, and understand the disease of addiction from a neuroscience perspective; I let those people know that I AM OF THE OPINION that it is a disease. Prior to progressing into a disease, there is a choice to use or drink. After the person is addicted, they are then using because they have the disease of addiction—again, IN MY OPINION. I will spare you the research behind it, the specifics of what addiction looks like in the brain, etc., because that is not where I am trying to go with this.
That being said, I will never try to shove my opinion on this down anyone’s throat—typically I ask why a person is asking my opinion, and let them know that I think it is a disease. I then will listen to whatever they may say (no matter if they agree or disagree), and I thank them for sharing their thoughts with me. I will not try to change anyone’s mind that has as strong a conviction as mine that addiction is a choice. The great part about this is that I totally accept that the other viewpoint “works” for people, just as mine “works” for me; and I respect it fully. I have to say, however, that recently, from angry family members of addicts, to healthcare professionals “tired” of dealing with med-seekers in their facility—I have been bombarded with people that want to debate this with me. My stance is and continues to be that I will not debate this with anyone—this is my “opinion.” MY stance. As more and more people become affected by addiction, it appears to have become a hot button item like religion or politics. If someone wants to try to convince me of the other stance, or tries to discount my opinion; they are not respecting me or my opinion. We are all individuals and have a right to our own opinions—let’s keep it civil.
Summer Jeirles is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor with a background in addictions and co-occurring disorders in adults. She currently practices in Virginia.