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Using is a Choice, Addiction is Not

Whenever the topic of addiction arises in the public sphere, there are always certain people who think addicts should go to jail rather than treatment because they believe addiction is a choice. This belief is absurd on several levels.

First, no one chooses to become addicted. Addiction destroys families and careers. It burns money and time. No one would choose addiction. It’s true that you can’t become addicted to a substance you never use, but most people can use without becoming addicted. For example, nearly every American adult has drunk alcohol, but only a small percentage become addicted. It’s impossible to know who will become addicted before it happens. Furthermore, it’s not like there’s a “last exit” sign on the road to addiction. You can’t say, “Well, I’ve had 342 drinks this year and 343 will make me an alcoholic; maybe I better not.” To paraphrase William James, the chains of addiction are too light to feel until they are too strong to break.

Second, many drugs that lead to serious addictions are prescribed by doctors and taken as directed. Opioids are especially bad, but benzodiazepines and barbiturates are a problem too. The companies that make these potent, addictive drugs market them aggressively and actively hide their dangers so that for a long time, even doctors weren’t aware of how quickly patients can become addicted. If one can become addicted to prescription painkillers in as little as two weeks, and the FDA recommends limiting prescriptions to three days, but the doctor still prescribes a month’s worth of pills, it’s hard to argue the patient chose to become addicted. It’s not even quite fair to say he chose to use.

Most importantly, the notion that addiction is a choice distracts from the real issue, which is that addiction is a problem that will continue to have negative consequences for the addict, her family, and her community unless she gets treatment. If you see a car wreck, you make sure everyone is safe and worry about assigning blame later. Too often, our approach to addiction is to assign blame so we can shirk responsibility for making sure everyone is safe.

Everyone makes bad decisions sometimes. Maybe choosing to drink or use drugs is a bad decision for some people, but you can only know in hindsight how bad of a decision it was. The important thing is to make a good decision now by seeking treatment. If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction, Gardens Wellness Center can help you detox and decide on a treatment strategy. Call us today at 844-828-1050 or email us at to learn more.