Saturday, 21 September 2013

Lesson Learned

"It’s not a disease! A person with cancer cannot choose to not have the cancer. A person using drugs can choose not to use drugs. It is ridiculous to call it a disease.”

“He is so selfish. Doesn’t he care about what he is doing to his parents?”

“They should just kick him out after what he’s put them through.”

“People should not be able to use drugs or alcohol as an excuse in court. They chose to drink/use drugs. No one forced them to.”

I am ashamed to admit it but the unkind statements above were made by me when I didn’t know anything about addiction, but I thought I knew everything. I would make such comments when I would hear about someone who committed a crime and tried to use the “excuse” of addiction. Or, when I would hear stories about what an addicted individual was doing to his or her family. I just didn’t understand how they could hurt their loved ones so much and still continue to use.

Although, I've always had tremendous compassion for people (and still do!), I had no sympathy for anyone battling an addiction. I thought it was a continuous choice for them to keep using so why should I feel sorry for them.

Part of my lack of compassion comes from the fact that I had no experience with any type of addiction when I was growing up (I was blessed). My father did drink one bottle of beer when I was in my early twenties. I only know about it because my aunt found it shocking enough to tell me. In all my childhood years, I do not ever remember that man with a drink in his hands. My mother drank a few times a year at family functions but that was it.

As for me personally, I only drank a handful of times in my life. I would literally faint about half way through my first glass/bottle of something.  I think I am allergic. When I fainted at the top of the stairs at the Trade Winds nightclub and woke up at the bottom that was enough for me! I was done with trying to drink.

Time heals all wounds so I decided to try it again 8 years later at a staff party. While I didn’t faint this time, I struggled to get it down and was feeling hung over by the time I finished my first drink. Not fun. That ended my attempts to drink alcohol. I am not meant to be one of those classy looking ladies enjoying a glass of wine. I accept that. :)
My lack of experience dealing with addiction, and my lack of any acquired knowledge on the issue, made me very judgmental.  Little did I know that I would have my eyes opened in such a big way!

Now, here I am with an addicted child of my own.  I have been through hell and back with this disease! As a woman of faith, I firmly believe I was given this experience for many reasons. One of them being that it would take away the ugly judgmental attitude that I had toward people who were sick with addiction. 

This experience has driven me to learn everything that I can about addiction in an effort to save my son and others like him. During my journey, I learned just how wrong my opinions were.

Let’s look at my earlier thoughts but this time with an informed mind:

“It’s not a disease! A person with cancer cannot choose not to have the cancer. A person using drugs can choose not to use drugs. It is ridiculous to call it a disease.”  

Many people have a hard time to get their heads around addiction being a disease. After all, it doesn’t fit the description of disease as we know it. We know diseases as something that you get by no fault of your own – things like cancer.  (Didn’t addicts choose to try drugs?) Your body may or may not respond to treatment for the disease. You have no control over that.  (Don’t addicts have the choice to quit?) That is disease as we understand it, right?

Disease is actually defined as:

disease /dis·ease/ (dĭ-zēz´) any deviation from or interruption of the normal structure or function of any body part, organ, or system that is manifested by a characteristic set of symptoms and signs and whose etiology, pathology, and prognosis may be known or unknown.

Addiction fits this description completely. It is a chronic, progressive disease, which many people die from each year.  Choice is not a factor in defining a disease.

Yes, an addicted person makes one choice, and that is to use drugs the first time. Depending on a whole lot of different things, including genetics, that individual could be hooked right away or it can take longer. Though we can’t see it, drug use changes the structure of the brain, including the reward system. Brain scans have documented these changes.  The brain is hijacked and becomes dysfunctional. This is the disease.

What we are left with is a person who is out of control and appears to not care about anyone but themselves. These are some of the symptoms of the disease.

While it may seem obvious that they should quit, it is not so simple to do that. Their bodies are physically dependent on drugs just to feel normal. Addiction is very complex.  More people die from addiction each year than car accidents because it is so hard to overcome the disease. The positive thing is that, unlike cancer and other diseases, one can make a decision to stop using but it takes a tremendous amount of effort, support, and a lifetime commitment to do so. 

  “He is so selfish. Doesn’t he care about what he is doing to his parents?”

Behaviours associated with addiction are ugly. Individuals who are addicted are desperate to get their drugs. Drugs to them are as necessary as food is to us. When given the choice, they will choose drugs over food or any other necessity. Addiction is a powerful disease.

Addicted individuals carry tremendous guilt. They care but they are powerless. Their disease is selfish. They are sick. I get that now.

“They should just kick him out after what he’s put them through.”

Ha! How simple and logical this seemed at the time. Throw him out! Yeah right! Having a child who is addicted is so painful. Can you imagine putting your child out if they had a deadly disease? Putting them out knowing that you could get a call any time that they have died? Not an easy thing to do. 

Many of us parents have had to do just that to protect ourselves and others in the home. We’ve taken them back in hoping that things will be different only to have it all start over again.

Parents do the best that we can as we try to ensure our sick children live another day until they get the help that they need. 

Addiction has many victims, including families. There is nothing simple about it.

“People should not be able to use drugs or alcohol as an excuse in court. They chose to drink/use drugs. No one forced them to. They need to go to jail.”

I thought I knew it all. Throw them in jail! That’ll teach them a lesson.

Addiction is a disease of the brain that causes people to do negative things, including breaking the law. It is definitely a mitigating factor in cases before the court and should be considered in sentencing.  The person is sick, not bad. However, I believe that if you do the crime, you do the time but we can’t just throw addicted people in jail. That won’t help. We have to treat the disease.

We either need to divert them to treatment centres as part of sentencing or provide the treatment in jail. Otherwise, they won’t be rehabilitated like they are supposed to be in jail. Like the rest of us, addicted individuals deserve to get the help they need to overcome their disease.

Wow! Have I have come a long way. Because of my experience with addiction, and how I was so wrong about it, I make it a rule to not pass judgment on any issue that I am unfamiliar with.   If I question something, I learn about it before forming an opinion. Lesson learned!

It has also taught me to be patient with people who are judgmental toward my son and others battling addiction. When I read negative comments on media websites, I sometimes feel frustrated but then I remember what I was like when it came to this issue. I then become even more motivated to continue my work of educating about this disease. Education changed my mind. I am sure it will change others too!



  1. There is an old sayin " Don't judge till you walk a mile in my shoes". I have experienced this and so much more but like you I am very thankful for the gifts I have been given since this happened in my family, the gifts are, more empathy, understanding and wonderful bonds I have made through my personal journey and that of my families. I am thankful for the chance to share information about this disease and help others cope. God Bless you and yours Rose!!!

    1. This journey is life-changing, for sure. It truly is therapeutic to reach out and help others. I am so glad that you do that too. Take care.

  2. Rose ,you doing an excellent Job of educating...for all us Parents out there...Thank-you !!

    1. Thank you, Mamma! And, thank you for all that you do as well. xo


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