Thrawn Rickle 18

Addiction

© 1993 Williscroft

When is a disease not a disease?

During the flu season most of us go to great lengths to avoid getting sick. In Japan, where the average population density is much higher than here, people don surgical masks in public during flu season. Nevertheless, our best intentions sometimes fail us. Diseases get caught.

There is a class of disease that is subject to a different set of rules. You can be near those who suffer from one of these diseases, you can share intimacy, even share needles if that’s your thing, without the slightest chance that you will catch the disease yourself.

The difference between this class of diseases and all others is the relationship between addiction and responsibility. In the accepted sense, a person who is addicted to a substance cannot keep from imbibing. The individual is considered sick, and as such, not responsible for his or her actions. I do not quarrel with the established concept of physical addiction. I find it difficult, however, to understand how the “want to” created by the addiction becomes a “have to” in the addict’s mind, and then is translated into “excusable” by the general public.

While I am unable to prevent myself becoming infected with the flu virus, there is only one way (under normal circumstances) I can become intoxicated: I must drink alcohol. No matter how devastating my addiction, no matter how desperate my “need,” unless I pick up the glass and drink, I will remain sober. Sure, it may be difficult; I may be so physically dependent that I will die without the “drug,” but the fact remains unassailable. I’ve got to pick up the glass.

We have become so attuned to the idea that addiction is beyond our control, that we tend to equate addiction with “not responsible.” In fact, this concept has wormed its way into the basic fabric of modern society. In a thousand ways, we are told by our parents, our teachers, our government, the society in which we live that we are not really accountable for our actions. An addict isn’t responsible, nor an alcoholic, a schizophrenic, a neurotic, a compulsive gambler, compulsive cheat, shoplifter, burglar, rapist, killer.... Something beyond our control makes us do it.

Because we do not perceive that we exercise control over much of our destiny, we are more willing to let others control what remains. No need to learn defensive, responsible driving, your seat belt or crash helmet will protect you. No need to learn emergency recovery maneuvers, we won’t let you drive fast enough to need them. No need to exercise moderation and self-restraint, we won’t permit you to take that substance in the first place. No need to practice responsible weapon ownership, we will tell you what you can and cannot do. No need to exercise financial prudence, we’ll bail you out if you get into trouble....

In reality, we are each responsible for our actions, and we should be accountable for them as well. We have lost sight of this. We don’t teach it to our children, we don’t practice it in our daily lives, and we don’t enforce it in our society.