I mentioned before the view that addiction should be viewed as a chronic disease, but that is not the whole story. Yes, I think there should be more compassion from the general public in this area, but there is something we must realize. The consequences are dire not just for the addict, but everyone around them. How do we talk to spouses beaten by alcoholics? How do we talk to people assaulted by addicts for heroin money? Do diabetics rob houses to get more insulin? Do people with asthma lie to their families about using corticosteroids? There is a difference between addiction and other diseases and as much as we want to help addicts, that difference cannot be ignored. It is both a medical and criminal justice problem.
My goal is not to shame, but to emphasize that the onus is on us to change, especially since the stakes are so high. I will go out on a limb here and admit something personal. I believe I was addicted to videogames and the Internet. Yes, I know those aren’t real diagnoses (yet), but I was stuck in a constellation of patterns that had adverse consequences on my health and relationships with loved ones. My grades suffered and my work was half-assed. I became angry and verbally abusive with family members. Admonitions from the people around me stopped this behavior temporarily, but it wasn’t until I directly acknowledged the damage I was doing that I vowed to fight this problem. When I stopped the videogames and severely curtailed the Internet surfing, it was like I finally escaped from a maze that I had trapped myself in. So much less depression. So much less anxiety. So much more freedom. I’m not perfect, though. The temptation is always there when I turn on the computer, and downtime is my most dreaded time.
For some of us, it’s easy to put all the blame on external things. If only we had more resources, if only we had more supportive families, if only we were rich, then we would get better. But even if we had these things, they are not sufficient. A supportive family and money may be greatly helpful, but ultimately the decision lies within us. Here’s what I would tell my younger self: Admit that you are unhappy. Admit that your unhealthy lifestyle is feeding that unhappiness. You must make the decision to change. No one else can force you. Free yourself from the past, and do all you can in the present.
I won’t lie, this is hard. It also suspiciously sounds like a “pull yourself by your own bootstraps” argument. That doesn’t mean you deserve to be punished because of your choices and it doesn’t mean that you can easily overcome cravings and temptation. But you are still in control of your brain. You must believe you can get better and you must believe that a cure is possible. You must also realize that your actions can make things worse. I know some addictions are worse than others, that self-control is harder. At least commit to treatment, and to completing it. Ceding control to helplessness is no solution.
Summary: It is up to you to change. Addiction does not make you powerless.