Let’s treat addiction like the disease it is

One writer’s response to the firing/resignation of HBO’s CEO, Chris Albrecht:

Addiction to drugs or alcohol is not an inconvenience, a lapse of willpower, a character flaw, anything to be ashamed of or any form of divine judgment. Addiction is not something that needs to be whispered about or shrouded in euphemisms when you are among polite company. Addiction is a progressive, incurable disease — in the same way that diabetes and asthma are progressive and incurable diseases. If you have the illness of addiction or alcoholism and you stop treating that illness, you are guaranteed to have a relapse. If you relapse and you still don’t treat your illness, you are guaranteed to die.

I can say this with such certainty because I am an addict and an alcoholic. Just like Albrecht, with his well-documented violent outbursts, my own life got pretty squalid and desperate for a while. At the end of my using, a high percentage of my days were being spent in bad behavior that was directly tied to my substance abuse. Then I went to jail for the night and had the same epiphany that every alcoholic and addict in recovery — including Albrecht — has had: If I don’t quit using, I shall die a long, slow, horrible death, and I will hurt every person I come into contact with until that death.

I’ve happily been in recovery for years. Life, love and work are all good right now, but that goodness is entirely provisional on my continuing to treat my chronic disease of addiction. As part of this treatment, I insist on being myself in all situations. And what I am is a drunk and a pill popper, gratefully living a sober life today.

I’m lucky, because I am so not shy about my illness. I don’t feel any need to hide in either my personal or professional life the fact that I am an addict and alcoholic . I make it a personal mission to help the people I work with understand that I’m perfectly “normal” as long as I don’t drink or use. But I also make it clear that I don’t have a choice about treating my disease: Doing what I need to do to stay sober has got to be the driving wheel of my daily life. For me, it’s a matter of life and death. And it seems to me that Albrecht is only trying to do the same thing I do: Treat the disease that will wreck what’s left of his life before that disease kills him.

This is what burns me about Americans and the illness of addiction: When Tony Snow announced he’d had a cancer relapse and took some time off from being our president’s spokesman, the consensus seemed to be that he was a brave fighter who should be welcomed back to the Blue Room podium as soon as he felt up to standing behind it. Not that there’s anything wrong with this. I, too, find Snow a very brave and appealing figure as he wages his perforce solitary war against his killer disease. But I find Albrecht to be an equally brave and appealing figure as he wages his own solitary war against his own killer disease of alcoholism.

Read the rest here. I agree with every word about attitudes toward addiction. I also appreciate his candor:

“I had been a sober member of Alcoholics Anonymous for 13 years,” he wrote. “Two years ago, I decided that I could handle drinking again. Clearly, I was wrong.”

However, this guy did commit an assault. (Not his first, either.) I don’t think I’ll describe him as brave, although I might, if he chose to start creating accountability for his violence by entering a batterer intervention program.

One thought on “Let’s treat addiction like the disease it is

  1. OK, I truly believe that addiction is indeed a disease and needs to be treated as such, however using it to excuse violent behavior is what helps stigmatize this disease. There is no excuse for violence just as there is no excuse for discriminatory statements made by celebrities who blame thier comments on addiction. I wonder should we release prisoners who have commited murder while addicted free as well? The vast majority of prisoners are past substance abusers!! Give me a break! I have been sober for 15 years and it is my responsibility to not only abstain from using but also to become a better human being. One of the ways that society can help the addict seek and remain sober is by holding them accountable for their behavior. If we don’t do that then we send the message that it’s ok to be abusive and discriminate because after all you are a sick addict and that gives you permission to be excused for your bad behavior. The comment that being violent was once part of addiction behavior is bull. I know many alcoholics who no longer drink but are still violent abusive people and I know practicing alcoholics who have never been violent. THIS HAS TO STOP NOW!!!! The fact that addiction is a fatal disease is an even stronger reason to hold the recovering addict responsible for picking up that first drink or drug again and by holding them accountable we may just save their life.

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