I’m an addict. I’m addicted to drugs (in recovery), caffeine, and cigarettes. This makes me a criminal, a moral failure, and generally weak all around. Would you agree with this assessment? Many people would. In fact, perhaps most people would. Let’s look a little closer. I bet if we really thought about an examined this, then you might not agree anymore. After having a conversation with my brilliant sister and favorite blogger, I have to say that I don’t agree with this statement that says this makes me a criminal, a moral failure, and generally weak all around. It’s interesting what you will find when you really look and examine the literature on the subject. So let’s go!
First of all, I want to encourage you to read this blog. Is chock-full of well-researched, easy to understand sciency facts about all kinds of mental health things.
What is one thing that you just can’t live without? Is it coffee, books, your pet? Why is it so hard for you to function without it, really? I’ll tell you. It’s the way you feel after your brain gets a big dose of dopamine. You feel better. You feel good. You feel happy. It’s a chemical response. Should you be punished? No, of course not, right? Well, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Every human on this Earth is constantly chasing a chemical response. One that floods the brain with dopamine. One that makes them happy.
This is what addiction is, chasing a chemical response. Remember that every human does this to some degree. Many of us wake up in the morning and drink coffee, and the way it makes us feel after we drink it is the chemical response that we are searching for. Caffeine addiction is in the DSM-5 just as internet addiction and video game addiction are.
You see, a person can be addicted to literally anything. My stepmother is addicted to making people feel miserable. How, you ask? Well, it’s simple really. Every time she sees somebody suffering be it emotionally or mentally, she gets a little rush of adrenaline. So she seeks out hurtful words to say to people so that they will suffer by it. She literally gets high from watching people suffer. You may know somebody like this as well, and if you do you might want to think about their behaviors and their words in a different sort of way.
Addiction does not start and stop at drugs. However, it is being addicted to drugs specifically that make people think of moral failure, weakness, and criminal activity. Not video games, not sex, not the misery of others. So why do we differentiate between drug addiction and addiction to sugar? It’s only because drugs cause harm to the body, are illegal in the United States, and are bought and sold in an unregulated way. Sugar is not any of these things. It may be bad for your health, but it is not condemned.
My substance of choice was meth. I’m not proud of this, but I don’t feel bad for it either. I’m not a moral failure, I’m a human. About 60% of the entire population in America has tried hard drugs at least once. Out of that you get around 1% of people who become addicted. I just happen to be one of those people. For me, the hardest part is the needle. I can walk away from the drugs, and I’ve proven that multiple times. It’s the needle that’s hard to walk away from.
I know I’m getting personal here, but it wouldn’t be my blog post without some kind of personal story. There’s a very specific point in time when the needle is in my vein, and I pull back the plunger just a tiny bit, and I see the blood flagging into the syringe before I push for a rush. That is the point in time I’m addicted to. It’s that tiny flag of blood, and the fact that the needle is in my arm and I’m controlling it. That is what I’m hooked on.
Many intravenous users feel the same. So it’s not necessarily the substance. I personally hate myself and life in general when I am using. I know I’m not a good parent, I know I’m letting life slip by me, I know I’m not fit to be occupying this human body when I’m using meth. If I could just shoot myself up with water, and experience that point in time over and over, the one with the blood in the syringe, I would do it.
It doesn’t matter what you’re chasing, be it attention, pleasure, or caffeine. If you do things that make you happy, then you are chasing a chemical response. You are engaging and addictive behavior. Still, I am the criminal and you are the normal person. I’m not saying there shouldn’t be any action taken when somebody is addicted to drugs. What I am saying is that criminal records and an abstinence-only approach to addiction is completely ridiculous and not very helpful. We need to be focusing on damage reduction. Rehabilitation. Awareness. Support. Our damn-you-to-hell- and-prison-as-well attitude may be presented as an approach to rehabilitation, but I can tell you as one who is currently entangled in the law, it is very, very, not.
I am an addict. This means that I’m received by people as a hardened criminal. I’m perceived as a “drug seeker” by the mental health and medical health fields. This means that even if I need a certain medication, I can’t have it, regardless of how much pain or mental anguish I am in. I’m an addict, and this means that by default, you are always better than me. Is this right? Recovering from addiction is hard enough without all of this piled on top. Regardless of what you personally believe, the science shows that it is a disease. It is an illness for me, just like something or other is an illness for you. But, you are not treated like a pariah while I am.
Damn me, taking this stance on my addiction while it starkly contradicts societal norms and practices. Can’t I see my own arrogance? I see my own, and I also see yours. That’s the difference between the two of us. Believe it or not, what I’ve said in this post is true. We need to change our system and how we handle drug addicts. There is a better way, we just need to embrace it. It won’t make us buttloads of money like the prison system does, but it would go a lot further as far as rehabilitation goes.
So be a human. Chase your chemical response whatever it may be. Because that’s the way that humans work. Just try to avoid drugs and alcohol, they are bad for you. As long as what you do doesn’t turn you into a criminal or hurt anybody else, I say go for it. Until next time,