Addiction and free will

2 Feb

No one chooses to be an addict. Addiction is a painful, relentless, life-destroying force. The idea that anyone would make a conscious decision to live life that way — constantly in search of the next fix and an unattainable high — is absurd. Calling it a disease always feels limiting to me: “Disease” implies that there’s a cure. No one who picks up a cigarette or a bottle or a needle thinks that this will become the thing they can’t control. Addiction builds and it takes hold of you so suddenly you don’t notice it happening. By the time you realize how deep in it you are, you’re already stepping it up to harder drugs and dreading the agony of withdrawal. No one chooses to relinquish control.

No one chooses to stay an addict either, because once you’re an addict, you don’t have that kind of choice. Getting treatment isn’t a choice so much as a battle for survival, and it’s always easier said than done. A stint in rehab teaches you coping skills, but it doesn’t make the cravings go away. The program works, but you have to work it, and that takes a kind of strength many of us don’t have. Sobriety doesn’t fix the emptiness that until that point you’ve been self-medicating. It’s a coping mechanism for a world that is scary and fucked, for brains that are scary and fucked. No one chooses to need drugs to feel whole — or just to feel normal.

And no one chooses to die. Even those who take their own lives are fighting against depression so severe that suicide feels like the only option, and no one chooses that unbearable misery. Death is fucking infuriating, which is why we’re so eager to assign blame. To an outsider, death by overdose looks selfish: You chose to get high, you got careless, you died and left your family and loved ones behind to deal with your absence. But selfishness suggests free will, and addiction robs you of that. No one chooses to give it up willingly, and once it’s gone, it’s a fucking endless struggle to get it back.

8 Responses to “Addiction and free will”

  1. whiteravenfire February 2, 2014 at 2:01 pm #

    Life can be complicated. People seek relief in different ways, some ways are just much better/safer/more acceptable than others. But in the end it’s just people seeking relief.

  2. Sophia February 2, 2014 at 4:07 pm #

    Sticking a needle full of heroine in your arm the first time is a choice. It is a selfish choice. It is a choice to take the “easy” road. Heroine kills, it just does and a person makes a choice to put themselves in that place. Saying a person is not strong enough to put the needle down is a disservice to the addict.

  3. J February 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    I agree, mostly. The issue I have is that, while I know it’s not a choice to become an addict, there is almost always a choice as to whether you take that first drink, or that first hit of whatever drug you might start out on. You may not have the choice once you’re addicted, but the first time you do it…that’s usually a conscious decision.

  4. li88yinc February 3, 2014 at 5:17 am #

    Not to take away from any loss, but people who do drugs do drugs for a reason. They do it because they like it. They do it because sobriety is limiting. They do it because drugs provide a feeling that nothing else can. The friends I’ve had, who’ve died from drugs, or those who have recovered, did it because they wanted to be high. And I do not believe that there’s anything wrong with wanting to be high. Not everyone wants to live within the boundaries, not everyone can, and there is no cure for that.

  5. Quitter February 3, 2014 at 11:56 pm #

    Firstly, just wanted to say that I found you through a series of retweets, etc, and I DO agree on some points. I can also agree with many others, like Sophia there, and even Jared Padelecki, on some points as well.
    Credentials: raised by a family of alcoholics with various mental problems, from depression to bipolar to ocd; first wife was a ‘recovering addict’ (ANY form of opiate, morphine – heroin, pill or inject) and a schizophrenic; current wife is bipolar, possibly schizophrenic, but at least she sought help and takes her meds; and, lastly, I suffer from depression, court alcoholism every few years, and started smoking when I was 12 (cigarettes, but I enjoyed weed in my teens).
    Unless you are mentally unwell, be it handicapped or illness, you get to decide what you do. If you choose to stick a needle in your arm, or drink, or smoke, or cheat on your husband, or whatever, that is YOUR CHOICE. Sure, after making that initial choice a sort of mental illness, an addict mentality, can and usually does set in. Even then, there are programs, medication, etc that can help. My ex-wife lied, stole, cheated on me, and more than once was found with drugs. I always tried to help her, but the problem was that she didn’t WANT help. I realized that SHE needed to help herself, or she would never get better.
    My uncle refused to quit smoking, even though he had access to help, even after losing his foot do to complications from diabetes, and the heavy smoking eventually killed him. My new wife and I had a baby a few years ago, and I realized that even if I went outside to smoke I still was covered in stench. I sought help, and after 20 years of smoking a minimum of 2 packs a day, I quit. Every day I drive past cigarette stores, or smell the smoke, and every day I have to stop myself from buying a pack, or bumming a cig, or just standing REALLY close to someone else smoking. I never give in, I think of my daughter and always stop myself. AND IT IS LEGAL. Found on every street corner and in most grocery stores. Takes some work to find heroin, or morphine, or anything else that will get you arrested like that.
    Look at it that way: he had to go find it, breaking multiple laws. Every step of the way he had chances to stop. Last chance, right before injecting? He was supposed to go pick up his kids, and spend the day watching the game with his son. If that can’t stop you, the mental illness is too far progressed, and you should be hospitalized for the safety of those around you. What if he HAD picked up his kids?
    He had opportunity for help, he had reasons not to do it, and he had been to rehab and learned the coping skills needed to stop himself, or call someone to save him from himself. He chose to do what he did, just as I and many others choose not to.

    • Quitter February 4, 2014 at 7:47 am #

      I noticed that you cut and pasted, without context, part of my comment for your twitter. Called me self-righteous and did not mention any other part or even link to the full comment. You seem to enjoy using these circumstances to get attention. If you truly cared about this issue, and not about stirring up your followers to call me a dick, cunt, and disgusting, you could have posted a comment here and discussed it.

      • Louis Peitzman February 4, 2014 at 8:12 am #

        I stand by my assessment of your comment, but I shared it in its entirety on Twitter.

        A few things:
        1. I do truly care about this issue, clearly. It’s something I’m very passionate about. And in writing about addiction, I’ve realized there’s nothing to be gained from arguing with people like you, which is why I didn’t bother.
        2. Stirring my followers to call you names? I never included your name in the tweet, or any contact information. I’m showing them the kind of bullshit comments this post has been getting, but that doesn’t really affect you at all. I don’t even know who you are.
        3. Accusing me of using these circumstances to get attention is an odd claim. Believe it or not, talking endlessly about addiction and the way we treat addicts does not make me as popular on Twitter as writing jokes does. I tweet about it because I’m angry. I shared part of your comment because it pissed me off.
        4. It was a shitty comment, even taken as a whole. You missed my point, regardless of your personal history with addiction. In the end, you’re still just patting yourself on the back for being alive, which is exactly the kind of ghoulish response that inspired this post.


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