Addiction Recovery: A Bad Person Trying To Become Good Or A Sick Person Trying To Become Well?

February 24, 2010 — 9 Comments

There is still a debate out there as to whether or not addiction should be considered a disease or a sort of mental disorder of the weak willed. It seems that these two schools of thought will never find common ground on what truly causes addiction.

I have been on both sides of the fence. At one time, I didn’t want to believe that it was a disease. I wanted to think that possibly this was something that I brought on myself from lack of will power or self discipline and that possibly, since this wasn’t a disease, I would be able to go back to using “every once in a while”.

Now however, after a lot of reading up on the subject, I can accept the fact that addiction is a disease which was with me far before ever drinking my first beer or taking my first pill. Something causes my mind to work in an addictive thinking pattern and it is that addictive thinking pattern which is truly the disease.

It is easy to lose sight of why and how I got into this situation though. It often leaves me pondering that old addiction recovery question: Am I a bad person trying to become good or am I a sick person trying to become well?

I guess this post is a way of reminding myself and other recovering addicts out there that we did not get to this point in our lives because we are bad people. We may have (ok, definitely have) done some bad things in our time but that doesn’t mean that we are truly bad people.

First off, we do crappy things some times because we are human. We are not perfect as perfection is not possible in humans. Secondly, most of the shady things from our past were done to serve one purpose…feeding our addiction. These reasons in no way excuses our bad behavior but it can just give us a sense that there were reasons behind our actions that DO NOT include us being bad people.

Addiction As A Disease

As long as there are people who consider addiction to be a disease, there will no doubt be people who disagree with that explanation. Each side has their own reasoning. I just wanted to lay out some of the thoughts on why addiction should be considered a disease:

addiction disease

  • There are patterns and symptoms which are very similar in addiction no matter what the addiction is to
  • Addiction is never cured, although it is treatable
  • Addiction is progressive like a terminal disease. If left without treatment, it gets worse and worse and can lead to death
  • If treatment is not diligently sought out, relapse is a very good possibility

I think that if you were talking about any other sickness and used the points above to describe it, no one would argue the fact that you were talking about a disease.

Addiction As A State Of Mind

Just as there are two sides to every coin, there is the other side of the addiction as a disease argument to consider. I can honestly say that just reading some of the stuff out there that shares the view of addiction not being a disease has gotten me pretty fired up.

  • How many people that have never decided to drink have ever caught the disease of addiction?
  • Addiction is not defined by the traditional definition of disease because the addict can reasonably choose not to drink or do drugs
  • The disease theory supplies the addict with an easy out from taking any responsibility for their actions
  • Once the “disease” of addiction has been diagnosed, theoretically the addict has lost the power of choosing whether or not to drink or do drugs

See what I mean about getting fired up? I guess one of the major points that people on this side of the argument have missed is addicts realize they have a choice once they have begun their recovery. Addicts can choose not to have that first drink or drug. They key words in that sentence was “that first drink or drug”. After the first one, the choice is no longer theirs. It becomes a compulsion.

Basically it seems that if you agree with this second school of thought then addiction recovery would be about a bad person trying to become good. Why would a good person allow drugs or alcohol to rule their life? Why would a good person lie and cheat just to get their next high? They wouldn’t. And if addiction isn’t a disease, these things are not done because the addict is sick…it’s because they are bad.

I classify myself as a sick person trying to become well. I don’t use the definition of addiction as a disease to shirk the responsibility of my actions. It is part of my acceptance and part of my recovery.

9 responses to Addiction Recovery: A Bad Person Trying To Become Good Or A Sick Person Trying To Become Well?

  1. In a society that approves the medicating of school children for the disease of “shyness”… you would think considering addiction as a disease would come as no great leap. (I’ll find you the link- it was a recent NY Times story)

  2. I have heard about that actually. Shyness has now become some personality disorder. To me, there are shy people and there are outgoing people. That’s just the way it is. Our country is getting way to “smart” for it’s own good.

  3. The idea of addiction as a disease works for me, even if it is just a handy metaphor. One thing that frightens me about my acceptance of the “disease” structure, though, is that it helps me to put up with a lot of unacceptable behavior.

  4. Hello, i have to agree and say it is certainly a real disease, its not a bad habbit that people can controle, allthough i admit in early stages of addiction it can be controled and even stoped, but later on it isnt very easy nore is it pleasent in anyway to stop or even slow down, i am an addict and i hate that people think its just something i can stop when i feel like it, i mean think about it would people grown or not grown ruine there lifes because of taking a pill or drinking if it was as simple as saying i dont think ill do this anymore, sure you need to be tough and i mean tough to stop useing.Its not imposible but not in anyway easy, most things arent. i just want people to know from the addicts side that it is in fact a real cronic brain disease after you have done it for a while because your brain drasticly alters the way it works, and then you are left with trying to quit and you think your just a weak willed person because you cant, but its not like that, its like any other disease like cancer or other seriouse illnesses, once you have it you have it for good, you just have to take it one day and one step at a time and try to live out your life the best way you can and as clean as you can , most people will never know what its like to wake up wondering am i gonna finnaly cut my throat today, or should i face another day with no result, and decide to go on, and wonder when it will ever just be OVER (the disease), of course i wouldnt kill my self because thats stupid but im telling you when people are commiting suicide and going crazy because they cant stand the pain of addiction anymore , you have to realise this aint no cake walk and it is a real cronic disease. i hope someone got some insite into what it is to be an addict and how it feels, please people do alot of research before you conclude that its not a disease because there are people dieing everyday because they cant take it anymore, have some simpathy and help, dont put us down and say just quit , its an insult to the highest degree

    • I really got to agree with you Richard,
      ;; its not as easy as said as done.. it takes alot of time to overcome a addiction eve a life time. I know because im currently recovering & it aint easy & i also wish that people would stop saying just quite its not as easy as they think.. I mean alot of us wish we could just say “im done with this” but really it takes alot more than that!

  5. I am always baffled by this conversation. The American Medical Association categorized Alcoholism as a disease in the early 1950’s. The American Psychiatric Association classifies Alcoholism and Addiction as Axis I Clinical Syndromes. Yet people still act as if they have to decide for themselves. Do you also debate whether cancer or diabetes or hypertension or schizophrenia are diseases? Cancer, diabetes, and hypertension are most frequently caused by lifestyle choices– overeating, smoking, no exercise. It doesn’t make them any less a disease because the sufferer made choices that caused the condition. Many pregnant women develop diabetes. Shall we say it’s not really a disease in their case because they chose to become pregnant?

    Not everyone who drinks becomes an alcoholic, just as not everyone who smokes develops cancer. But that does not mean that alcoholism and cancer are not diseases, just because the same behavior does not create the disease in everyone.

    Having a disease is not a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card, either. An alcoholic might not be responsible for things done or said while under the influence– that is, things they would not have done if they were sober– but they ARE accountable for those actions, just like anyone else with any other illness. It is not an excuse for bad behavior and they must suffer the same consequences as anyone else.

    The people who benefit most from this false debate are health insurance companies who don’t want to pay for treatment because “it’s not really a disease.” The people who suffer most from this lack of understanding are the alcoholics and addicts who have been told they are weak and bad. But they are NOT weak or bad, they are sick with a chronic illness (that was one of the qualifiers that AMA used to recognize alcoholism as a disease) that requires daily maintenance to be kept in check (like diabetes).

  6. I’m an agnostic, probably an atheist, if I ever find the courage to admit it to myself, but God help us all ๐Ÿ™‚ These seems to be no one else other than a socially imagined figure who can help us. Family deserts. Friends desert. In my country the health system is incompetent, and thereby deserts. I suppose it’s simply considered a wart on the skin of modern living, addiction and/or addictive behaviour. It makes me so angry. So Very angry, that our shitty societies cast otherwise valuable people aside like you would an unwelcome infestation. I have a lot of merit other than my addictive failings.

    I’m an artist. I’ve worked in media for 15 years basicallly because my family (parents) couldn’t see any merit, only snigger when I talked about it, at my yearning to strive to become a painter for a living. So I took the, I suppose, easy option and made a 15 year effort at making my way in life in the commercial side of art. I failed, albeit was professional and reasonalby talented at what I did. Now with our major downturn I’ve resolved to pursue my hearts desire and paint again at the expense of the state. My family still have no regard for it, and probably never will….. Maybe a few expensive sales of paintings would change that – unconditional love, right!

    How fickle are we as family units, and how weak are parental/sibling connections? It fills me with hate for them.

    I believe addiction has social and family/emotional/desertion roots, and is the fault of every man woman and child who lives, has lived and who will live until we learn to have compassion. Is there a single reader here who is not in this situation because of being let down in some way by those who were socially expected to be there for them. Think about it, deeply.

  7. Someone’sKiddo June 17, 2011 at 1:12 am

    Either way, The Recovery Mentality forces one into very neat, round little holes. By this I mean that people are broken down, thoughts remodeled on this narrow view (or two–but never seen as a non-competitive or equally valid view) of “what an addict is”.

    I commend you for looking outside the normal realm, and think you’re probably someone like the rest of us who got into a problem that is ill-defined (by most aside from researchers using scans of the actual brain) and it is problematic to force oneself into a self-identification as “addict” or “non-addict”. The period of addiction itself, I believe, is frequently a tragic anomaly. Not a life-redefining personality disorder-or-disease-which-one-? in every case.

    I am very happy to have come across your writings here, I do not want to jeopardize your path to “recovery” either, I just cannot help but want more open discourse from those fellow travelers in life who exhibit true intelligence. (Yes, tragically what I call “phase-addicted” or “grief addiction” for a time, never ever before or since, completely clean, completely sober, and completely against 12-Step Groups MYSELF, but not for those helped by them. Just hoping there are like minded individuals out there;)

  8. Heeey,
    ;; i got to say this is very well said because someone going through addiction is someone that is sick & trying to get well ; but i have to say to all the recovery addicts that it isn’t easy getting clean as being someone that is currently recovering its probably the hardest thing ive ever had to do. You got to be strong and have a postive mind..
    ;; ive been clean since august.8th & after going through the withdrawl and see what i put the people closest to me through, i still get cravings, im learning to say no to a pill & still fighting with my addiction day by day.. i wish i never chose the path i went down but its making me a stronger person.. i know i will always stuggle with an addiction but im glad im getting clean best thing ive done for myself ๐Ÿ˜€

    To all the recovery addicts stay strong and keep your chin up, you can do it and don’t let anyone doubt you!

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