Yesterday there was an article on the Guardian about whether addiction is a disease. The piece featured an advert produced by Massachusetts Department of Health with the aim of reducing the stigma of addiction. The strap line was “Addiction. It’s not a choice. It’s a disease”. You can read the article here: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/07/addiction-not-disease-science-stigma
The disease model is something I have thought about a lot, while I was drinking and now I have stopped. When my drinking was at its height I found the idea that I had a disease helpful. I was drinking because I was ill right ? Ill people can’t help themselves can they ? I couldn’t help myself. All I could do was drink – poor me. I used the disease model as a justification to relinquish myself of all responsibility for the terrible mess I found myself in.
Since I have got sober I can see I didn’t “find” myself in a mess. I hadn’t been magically transported there and dropped from a great height. Rather, the situation I was in was all of my own doing. Sure I had been through some difficult times and my life was stressful but that wasn’t an excuse. The bottom line was that it was my choice whether or not to drink and I had chosen to do so. Again and again. Over and over. I knew it made me feel guilty, ashamed and paranoid. I knew it was affecting my mental and physical health and threatening my relationships. I knew I needed to stop. But I chose to drink.
It may sound harsh and dispassionate but my personal view is that ultimately the responsibility must lie with the individual. If someone doesn’t want to drink they can stop. They may need some support, often a lot of support, but at the end of the day only they can decide not to drink. The buck stops firmly with the drinker. It stopped with me.
Supporters of the disease model often say that it is because addiction is accepted as a disease, better support and treatment options are in place than would be the case if it were perceived simply as a weakness of will. Similarly they argue that identifying addiction as a disease reduces stigma. I am not sure that is the case.
From my own perspective, I do not consider myself to have a disease and I do not want to be defined by whether or not I drink. I have epilepsy but I don’t consider myself “an epileptic”. I am Tori and I happen to have epilepsy. Neither my drinking (or my sobriety) nor my epilepsy are me. They are just a tiny part of who I am.
For me, accepting that I am completely in control of whether or not I drink is very empowering. I am not being forced to drink because I am ill and deserve to be pitied and felt sorry for. I am choosing not to drink. That choice is mine and mine alone.