Addiction Is Not A Choice

I’ve been gone for a while…life had been going so well.  It’s taken a significant downturn lately, and recent events have brought on this rant.

Son’s addictions have taken him to the bottom and he’s finally asked for help.  Great.  Now try to find a program in the US that will take an unemployed, under-insured man.  Blue Cross, Aetna, sure we’ve got space.  Medicare? um, yeah, but…  No. Not Medicare.  Medi-Cal.  Same sort of service, but at a state level.  It was all the coverage he could get through the Affordable Care Act.  Medi-Cal, I have been informed by a well-known and respected hospital that there is a waiting list for a bed in Detox/Recovery.  Six month-long waiting list?  Meanwhile he continues to use and falls deeper into addiction.  His only recourse is the ER.  Not the place for an addict, since they eventually note that he is a ‘drug seeker’.   Rather than treat them as they would treat someone in a wheelchair, suffering from stroke, or blind.

I want people to understand Addiction Is Not A Choice.  No one gets up one morning and thinks, “I’ve never tried heroin, I think I’ll go score some.  I hear it’s really addictive.”  No, they think, “yeah, it’s addictive, but I’m not addicted to anything else, maybe I won’t be this time either.”  Or any similar thought.  Usually the addict is young, lonely, and in pain either emotional or physical, and they are unable to get legitimate doctors to listen to them.  “Of course I’m seeking Oxycontin, I’m in pain you idiot!”  Just because they see nothing in the X-ray, doesn’t mean he has no pain.  Instead, a note is made in the file and they are labeled and addict and therefore lumped in with other undesirables.  The addicts are today’s Unclean.

Search for Rehab Facilities.  Count how many are touted as “luxurious”, “spa like”, and have a 360 degree view.  Hundreds of them up and down the coast.  And my son, because he lacks the resources is relegated to the bottom of a long list, left to his own devices for six months.  A lot of damage could happen in 6 months.  In that time, he could get arrested and sent to jail for three years on some drug possession charge.  Left in a cell to go through withdrawals sick, alone and scared…I don’t care how tough you are, withdrawals make you feel like you’re dying and most people are afraid of that.  No sympathy from the guards, they figure you’ve got what’s coming to you, what with you being some scumbag dope addict.  Like it was a choice!  It happens.  To a lot of people.  A poor decision, some bad luck or serious falling out with friends/family.  That drug filled the deep black hole of depression, made me imagine I had a heart again.  It made me feel better, why is that wrong?

The US justice system is how we deal with our societal pariahs.  I believe we do need a prison system.  But it needs reform.  NOW.  We must work to change the laws, states should have standardized sentences.  Like all states should put your standard rapists away for a minimum 10 years, and wear a bracelet for another ten (for example).  That way people like Brock Turner are held for an appropriate time, regardless of how well liked he is by the judge.  Consider arsonists.  Some are very smart and do their research.  Arsonists live in states with lots of far away places to burn: California, Texas, AZ, etc.  If Arizona’s state law says arson with no injuries to persons or property receives a sentence of 18 years.  But in Texas they’d only get 3, wouldn’t you think that would attract  the wrong sort of people to Texas?

What really needs to be standardized and seriously changed are the drug laws.  Many of these laws were written in the 50s and 60s.  We have gotten smarter and understand more about addiction and mental health than ever before, and yet we continue to lock up sad, but mostly harmless, addicts for $25 rock of crack.  The police and lawyers have been trained for years to treat addicts like criminals.  Just as people were once imprisoned for loving the “wrong” sex, we will see the errors in incarcerating our addicts.

I want to see doctors and those in the justice system treat addiction as a mental illness.  Our justice system is broken, poorly run, and employs far too many people who don’t really care.  Probably because of overwork and inadequate compensation.  We need more mental health service providers, more doctors, hospitals.  We need more classes graduating more nurses each year.  We need Government money to fund these programs, not the nickel and dime donations volunteer groups raise.

The end result of this rant is my desire to do advocacy work in this area.  I am overwhelmed by the dearth of specifics provided on various mental health sites.  Most sites have a button saying “Get Involved” and basically ask for a donation.  How do I get my view to policy-makers?  Should I just write my president and representatives so I can get a nice reply letter saying thank you, but this is a complex process and blah, blah, blah.

How do you change the world?


25 thoughts on “Addiction Is Not A Choice

  1. Hi Linda… I was just wondering the other day about you. I thought that I was still getting your posts but somehow I wasn’t. I haven’t been as active blogging either.. though I do a bit more than the past year.
    I’m sorry that your son is having such difficulty. It must be so hard watching him go through all of this. I don’t know how the situation would be in Canada if faced with the same circumstances. I know sometimes we wait a long time for specialists… but when it is such a dire thing one would hope that somehow the system would help !

    I certainly hope he does not have to wait 6 months… it’s much too long… Take care…Diane

  2. Your rant is valid and true. Thanks for saying what needs to be said out loud. Addiction is not a choice, and even when the addict has all the best information at hand, it is still incredibly difficult to stop using an addictive substance. Even when a person has access to facilities and health care, it’s still very hard. Things must be particularly frightening for you and your son. I’m sorry that you are all suffering with this. Addiction. I spit it out like a curse word.

    1. Thank you for your kind words. This week has been hell on me, and we still have lots to slog through trying to get him into a program. There are so few spots available. He’s sober now for about 6 days and some of his real self is coming through. Crossing my fingers.

  3. My brother’s 18-year-old son has just admitted to being addicted to meth. This post helps me to cope even though writing it must have been so painful for you, beautiful friend!

  4. You paint such a vivid picture of the failings of a broken system. I am writing from Australia, with no experience, but a great frustration with how the systems paints a picture of users, and those who know use, that they don’t understand or listen to. For you in America I wonder, if you said laws are enforced on a state level, do you write to the state department with your thoughts… or is making an impact world over, and I am sure that if we put our heads together we could come up with a petition that could mobilize the signatures needed to get us a voice that can be heard.

    Please come check out my wordpress

    I check my facebook and Twitter too which are on there, and am very interested on people ideas on the issues around decriminalisation, harm reduction and legalization

    1. I will definitely check out your sites. I really want to make the system make changes, but I can’t even figure out where to start. I never considered I’ll check that too. Thanks so much for your input.

  5. Why change the world? We are the ones with sick brains. We need to change us. It’s fucking hard. I’ve been clean for over 2 years and I still feel all fucked up inside. Idk what to tell you. Hang on.

  6. Hi, I’m new to WordPress and I just read this. Addiction is NOT a choice, that I know. I sometimes wish it weren’t even a word, because it destroys everything it touches and then starts to destroy more. I don’t know where you live, but I live in Texas and one of the best treatment centers here is called Serenity House and they have funding. I look forward to reading more!

  7. Hi there I hope i find you well? we all have opinions and I would have to disagree addiction is a choice you take, when i first took heroin I took it knowing it could lead to addiction i just didn’t think i would get addicted, I went to the depths for 8 years and then chose to live again, in a way you choose not to LIVE because living is too much to bear but living with an addiction is even harder so only when you get to the bottom do you choose to live again, I came back to life in 2004 and have been clean ever since it does get easier as the years go by and I feel like going through that has made me the person that I am now. Sometimes hard times show you the way back, without knowing darkness your cannot know light, I hope your son gets the treatment he needs and have faith in him that he will come back to life. Im from the UK so lucky to get a treatment called subutex it blocks the cravings and blocks your receptors so that even if you take heroin it doesn’t work so its like throwing your money and drugs down the drain. here is to life and living and making the best choices for ourselves, I really do hope he gets the help he needs.x

    1. Thank you for your comments and support. I do believe addiction is not a choice. As you said, you knew heroin was addictive. You may have chosen to take H, but your addiction is a physical need. That’s your body’s reaction to the drugs. I believe it’s an inherited gene or predisposition to addiction. After all, look at how much alcohol our ancestors drank, since you couldn’t drink the water most of the time.

      Anyway. Thanks for commenting. I wish you the best of luck on your journey.

  8. Thank you for this blog. I am a recovering addict and I can relate to trying to get help but bot having it available without some sort of money/insurance. I hope your son is doing better. It is possible…I am living proof. God Bless you and I pray that your search brings you some comfort. Keep on keepin’ on but only one day at a time!
    Grateful recovering addict, Richelle

  9. Disgraceful the way we treat drug addicts. They need help, not judgement.

    Perhaps you could check out a campaign called Anyone’s Child, linked to an organisation called Transform. They are a group of people who have had loved ones affected by addiction and lobby for a change in the law. I think they have groups popping up in several countries now.

  10. Hi Linda- I feel for your frustration and am sorry you and your son are going through this. The desire to understand and navigate the system is strong with me right now and I am on a journey to understand it more fully. Thank you for your efforts!

    1. They don’t make it easy. He was just denied Disability and we’ve got to start that process all over again. Ugh! It never ends. Keep your chin up. It may not end, but it does get better, right?

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