Look around your office. Your family gathering. Look around the room at your next cocktail party or bingo night. We’re told that one out of every ten people you see has fallen into a destructive pattern of addiction.
Let’s try a little experiment. Go ahead and think of the people in your social circle. Write down their names. How many do you think may have a problem?
Just one in ten?
Addiction takes many forms; the most common picture that comes to mind, is the friend, or loved one, who has dropped out of school, lost their job, or their family, due to excessive drinking or drug use. But addictions may be entrenched in lives and families in ways that are not immediately obvious. Many people with alcohol and drug addictions are still gainfully employed, may have high profiles in their communities, and may generally appear to have their life in order. But what could be going on under the surface… increasing absenteeism and decreasing productivity at work, neglect of family and responsibilities, cover-ups about the consequences of their addiction. And what about that friend who is up all night gambling or surfing porn on-line? What about the kid down the street who spends every waking hour computer gaming and throws a tantrum when his parents try and reign in his Internet use? Are they addicted? It’s very possible.
So what is “addiction”? It’s a tough word with a lot of negative stereotypes. Any behaviour characterized by an uncontrolled dependence, that continues in spite of causing physical, social or spiritual harm can be defined as an addiction.
Believe me, nobody wants to think of themselves as an addict, it carries a lot of shame.
But why should it? Firstly, addiction is a disease, not a choice. No one plans to become addicted, just as no one plans to get cancer, heart disease or any other illness. For some people there is a genetic component, for others, these behaviours have become a coping mechanism for abuse or trauma.
And although addiction is an equal opportunity disease (men and women, rich and poor from any culture can become addicts) we don’t talk about addiction as openly and honestly as we discuss other diseases.
Which makes getting healthy so much more difficult.
We always treat people with diabetes or heart disease or lung cancer with compassion. Yet just like addiction, all of those diseases have a genetic precursor that is exacerbated by unhealthy lifestyle choices. People with these conditions can organize fundraisers to help them get well, yet when was the last time you were asked to help Suzie go to rehab?
It’s true. We are still very smug and judgmental of people who struggle with addictions.
Now… back to that list!
In my social circle I can count eight people as being in need of treatment. Some are routine binge drinkers, some are daily heavy drinkers, some routinely drink and drive, some use drugs to the point where there is a negative impact on their lives, and at least one person I can think of will probably die from alcoholism.
What does your list look like? Still believe it’s just 10%?
In spite of the general knowledge that I am a recovering addict myself and an addiction counsellor, only one person has come to me and asked for help. I guess that person is the one in ten everybody talks about.
Whether your list includes one, two or three people in ten, the important truth is that an addiction is a disease caused by a complex set of circumstances. Becoming an addict isn’t a choice. But seeking recovery is. And their responsibility. They’ll need all your support and compassion in the journey.
Brian E. Johnson