recovery myth: addiction is a choice

How many times have you heard that addiction is a choice? Well, it’s not. In the beginning, you make a choice to use alcohol or drugs to alter the way you feel. Soon this becomes a habit. The habit grows and gets out of control. By the time loss of control occurs your mind and body have been chemically altered and the substance of choice becomes as necessary as oxygen.

If you believe that addiction is a choice then you must subscribe to the notion that other brain disorders or medically treatable conditions are a choice. To go far out on a limb, it is like saying deadly diseases are a choice. And we all know that isn’t true.


Addiction doesn’t happen after a single use, or even with regular use. If you are lucky, you can partake now and then and think nothing more of it. For some, once you get on the merry-go-round of substance use you never get off.

Society touts alcohol as a social elixir, a relaxer, a night cap, a constant companion at bbq’s, parties, camping trips, dinner parties, and so on. Alcohol is a socially acceptable way to alter the way you think or feel.

Some find that a substance works so well on whatever emotional or physical symptom you want to change that you use more and more of the substance. The substance becomes the only way you can cope with uncomfortable feelings.

You build a tolerance, which means you need more and more of the substance in an attempt to feel like you did the first time you used.

The body changes, neurotransmitters are disrupted by the substance use causing behavioral changes. Chemical changes that can only be relieved by more substance use. Cravings begin to drive you to go to any lengths to obtain and use.

Withdrawal symptoms occur after a few hours of not using.

The substance of choice has now become a necessity in order to feel normal.

The cycle of addiction is complete… and no manner of negative consequences is going to prevent you from continuing to use. You will go to any lengths to keep using.


The entire addiction process is a lot more complicated than the above simple explanation. There are so many factors involved in risks and realities.

Genetics, childhood, trauma, family life, belief systems, support systems, peer pressure, mental health conditions, personality, location, health concerns, and society at large all contribute to the big picture of addiction.

The AMA considers alcoholism and addiction a brain disease. Alcoholism is considered a disease that is medically treatable. A multibillion dollar a year industry has sprung up around the prevention, treatment and recovery of those with substance abuse.

You have to understand, addiction is a family disease. Everyone in your family and social circle is affected by your substance use.

Addiction is not a moral issue. It is not a willpower issue. It is a multi-faceted disorder that is treatable. Never lose sight of the fact that addiction is deadly. It has a predictable path of progression, it is chronic, but treatment and recovery are possible.


While under the influence you will act in ways so out of character that people won’t recognize you. That’s the power of substance abuse. It will make you say and do things that will fuel shame and guilt that you will not be able to outrun.

The farther you fall, the worse it will be. You will lie, cheat, steal, whore, act without boundaries, and manipulate in order to continue getting your hands on your substance of choice.

You will engage in criminal behaviors that will have dire consequences for your freedom.

Your new social circle will be made up of people like you, whose lives revolve around getting and using substances. When you can’t get your first choice, you will use any mind altering substance you can get your hands on.

Poly substance abuse is very common. You will resort to cocktails of whatever you can get your hands on.

The relief and high you seek will remain out of reach.


Driven by compulsions and withdrawal symptoms you will literally be out of your mind with need. You pretty much won’t care what you have to do to use.

Somewhere in your mind you know your actions are wrong, but your brain is also telling you otherwise. There is conflict in your mind, but not enough to prevent you from acting badly.

The power of addiction overthrows your small voice of reason that says what you are doing is wrong. You simply don’t care. Any lengths to use. You must have it. At any cost.

When caught your shame and guilt will be enough to make you declare you are sorry and you won’t do it again, that you don’t want to be like this… yadda yadda (This conviction lasts a hot minute, and then you’re back out at it again).

Left to your own devices you will go out and use some more (and more, and more).

Add in mental health issues that were preexisting or those bought on by continued chemical changes in your body, and there are a whole lot of crazy things happening in the mind.

In fact, you turn into a whole ball of crazy.


Personally I know at least five people who have died when they have relapsed. Almost one person a year that I have spent time with, been in treatment with, called a friend, or have interacted with, is permanently gone.

One relapsed on alcohol for a week and died from alcohol poisoning. Another, their body gave out because of alcohol use, another committed suicide. One was a homicide. One overdosed on the street in a seedy part of the city.

These are people who have relapsed after periods of time in recovery. They had been through rehab. They had rebuilt their lives. They snapped. Substance was their one and only escape from pain. And now they are gone.

The power of addiction can lie in wait for a long time and still take people out.

Relapse can pop up out of nowhere. Usually, there is a period of time; days, weeks or months leading up to the relapse where focus on recovery has wavered.

Addiction may not be a choice, but recovery certainly is.


Recovery from addiction is a complex and long process. Detox and abstinence is just the beginning. In some instances detoxing without medical intervention is deadly.

The body has become dependent on the substance in order to feel normal. Sudden withholding can cause seizure, coma, and death.

Damage has been done to major organs.

Damage has been done to the brain.

Health conditions have blown up.

It takes months if not years for the body to stabilize and heal from the damage wrought by substances. In some cases, damage is irreversible.

The full gamut of treatment involves education, therapy, processing, support systems, schedules, relapse prevention plans, and learning coping strategies to remain clean and sober.

Ongoing care by physicians, counselors, aftercare and peer led meetings must become a way of life.

Addiction is an isolating condition, recovery depends on support groups and integration in things that Matter to you.


Unfortunately stigma, prejudice and recovery myths are rampant. Generally unless you have a loved one who abuses substances no one really takes the time to learn about substance use, misuse, and abuse.

The truth of the matter is often rife with complicated medical definitions and disguised marketing for treatment centers.

The bottom line in the first few times you drink or use, it is a choice. Do it long enough and often enough you will become addicted to substances.

Once you are rolled up in compulsions and dependence, nothing else is going to matter.


PIN recovery myth: addiction is a choice

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