Choices are what we face every day of our lives. Choices over time create habits. Over a lifetime, habits determine success or failure, happiness or misery.
I am not a doctor or scientist, just an observer of a wide range of human behaviour among many different types of people in a range of situations and locations.
However, I have never been convinced that addiction is a disease. I believe it is a choice. A huge problem causing misery, poverty and often death to addicts, family members and others. A huge cost to society, but not a disease.
Labelling it a disease as has been popular in this age of political correctness has given addicts a convenient excuse.
It’s not my fault.- I have a disease.
It takes away the responsibility for the choices they make.
It is part of the social mentality that wants to label every slight deviation from what is considered “normal” some sort of ism.
What is normal?
I am convinced that there is no single, correct definition of normal. That every one of us is somewhere on a continuum ranging from totally sane and rational to totally insane and irrational.
Most of us stay in a narrow band around the centre most of the time.
But there are enough examples of supposedly normal people doing abnormal things to show that our place on that continuum is not fixed.
Stress, adversity, temptation, jealousy, lust, anger can all move us towards one or other of the extremes, unless we make the right choices.
This view of addiction is supported in the book The Biology of Desire by Marc Lewis at Radbound University in the Netherlands.
I learned about the author and his book in an article by Joseph Brean in the National Post recently.
Lewis is a psychologist and a recovered drug addict, he has experienced the problem of addiction from both sides.
He believes that addiction is nothing more than a very bad habit. It is a strong belief that taking more of whatever you are addicted to, drugs, alcohol, gambling or chocolate, will make you feel better when it will probably not.
Making bad choices
He also looks at the distinction that addiction must be because of either nature or nurture, when it is both.
My own experience of addiction supports the idea that it’s the choices we make and habits that prolong or end our addiction.
I started smoking tobacco during my military service at age 19. More out of boredom and seeing the contented look on smoker’s faces during “smoke breaks”, than peer pressure or wanting to appear sophisticated. It was an era when most adults and many youngsters smoked.
We lived in Rhodesia, then the biggest tobacco exporting country in the world.
The link between tobacco smoking and cancer was rarely mentioned or thought about. We were in a terrorist war, more likely to be shot or blown up by a landmine than get lung cancer.
In later years, I stopped smoking for the years when I was running marathons, stopped at other times, smoked no more than 10 cigarettes a day for long periods. All my own choices, no one made me stop, reduce or resume my tobacco addiction.
Sufficiently motivated, I could stop smoking temporarily but never permanently.
During the worst parts of the farm invasions in Zimbabwe when we had many sleepless nights, I smoked more than ever, up to 40 cigarettes a day.
Moving to Canada with the price of cigarettes around 10 times more than in Zimbabwe motivated me to reduce but not stop smoking. Stupidly, I still chose to smoke a few small cigars each day.
In 2010 I had a heart attack. As I lay on an operating table with a catheter the size of a pencil in the artery in my groin a cardiologist pointed out the damage to my heart on a computer screen. His suggestion that it might be a good idea to stop smoking was enough motivation for me to make the right choices.
In the 5 years since that heart attack, I have not smoked at all nor had the slightest wish to light up.
During non smoking periods in the past, the smell of a burning cigarette would have me salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. Now I can enjoy the smell and the memory of past experiences it evokes without wanting to try it again.
That’s why I believe that addiction is a choice, a bad habit, not a disease.
graphic by Stuart Miles / freedigitalphotos.net