Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Choice

Addiction Is A Disease, Not A Choice

It's time society stops turning a blind eye to the facts at hand.

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I recently read an article claiming that addiction is not a disease. And I'm not sorry to say, that's bullshit.

Saying that addiction is not a disease because it starts with a choice is completely discrediting the scientific facts proving that it is a disease of the brain. The American Society of Addiction Medicine classifies addiction as a chronic disease of the brain, and not without good reason.

The article mentioned above has several flaws in its argument. The first flaw in this argument is that it states that addiction is not hereditary or degenerative (which by the way, it is).

There isn't such thing as a single "addiction gene." Instead, there are biological differences, combinations of genes and differences in DNA sequences that can make people more or less susceptible to addiction, as well as certain genes being present that make it easier or harder to stop their use once addiction has begun. These genes and sequences in DNA can be passed down in families, causing those who are related to someone suffering from addiction to be more susceptible to addiction as well. The University of Utah compiled a list of genes that have been linked to playing a role in addiction which can be found here.

Studies of identical twins showed that if one twin was to experience addiction, 76 percent of the time the other twin will also experience addiction, and vice-versa.

The part that really kills me about this article is saying that addiction is not degenerative. I just don't understand how someone could have such a lack of knowledge in the role drugs play on the brain to try and say that they do not cause any deterioration of the brain.

First, we'll start with central nervous system stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamines. These drugs speed up brain activity, increase blood pressure and increase heart rate. This causes blood vessels to constrict which causes strokes and can cause blood pressure to become so high it causes sudden death. Chronic cocaine users often experience cardiac arrest or seizures due to their prolonged use. Prolonged use of meth can cause permanent damage to certain brain cells, the most prevalent being those of dopaminergic chemical signaling (causing a decrease in dopamine levels). The University of Utah performed research showing that meth users were three times more likely than non-drug users to develop Parkinson's disease due to the damage of the dopaminergic system. More studies have shown that abuse of drugs such as meth and ecstasy can have neurological consequences that are similar to that of traumatic brain injuries.

Alcoholism can cause those a deficit in vitamins such as Vitamin B1. Lack of this vitamin can cause Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome, a disabling disorder that can cause paralysis of nerves controlling the eyes, problems with coordination, involuntary eye movements and double vision. 90 percent of those with this syndrome go on to develop Korsakoff's psychosis which can cause more coordination issues, trouble walking, chronic memory issues and hallucinations.

Data suggest that chronic opioid users, which includes prescription painkillers such as Vicodin, Percocet, oxycodone and heroin, modifies the function and structure of the brain that causes issues with impulse control and emotion regulation. Research also suggests that chronic heroin users will experience degeneration of white matter in the brain, which can cause issues with stress management, behavior regulation and the ability to perform decision making.

Inhalants can cause sudden death just like stimulants by causing irregular heart rate and consequently causing heart failure. But along with that, certain inhalants (such as toluene and naphthalene) can cause damage to the myelin sheath in nerves fibers which directly help conduct nerve impulses. More nerve damage due to inhalants can cause complications similar to those who suffer from multiple sclerosis, a central nervous system disease that causes issues with coordination, weakness in limbs, numbness/tremors, issues with attention/memory, and speech impediments. Chronic use of inhalants can also cause issues with movement, hearing, vision and cognition.

As you can see, chronic drug use does cause degeneration of the body and the brain.

The next part of the article that I have an issue with is the line "A patient with cancer is not cured if locked in a cell, whereas an alcoholic is automatically cured. No access to alcohol means no alcoholism." For someone who is heavily addicted to drugs, quitting cold turkey can be incredibly unsafe. There are plenty of drugs where if you were to put this person locked in a cell and force them to quit, they'll die. For some people, using these drugs long enough causes their body to literally become dependant on them to function. Sudden withdrawal can cause some serious issues. Alcohol withdrawal can cause brain damage, seizures, heart palpitation, and death. A combination of these is called delirium tremens, which occurs in up to 10 percent of all alcoholics who attempt to detox and ultimately kills 35 percent of them. In fact, Psychology Today says that quitting alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids cold turkey, without medical help, can kill you.

Lastly, I have an issue with this article saying "When we allow people to refer to addiction as a disease, we are placing it alongside things like cancer and that is not fair at all." Before I continue, I do not want to discredit how truly awful cancer is. That is not my intention. What I'm irritated with is people saying that addiction and cancer are not comparable. It's true that many forms of cancer develop for reasons unknown that are out of our control. But cancers such as lung cancer (caused by smoking) and melanoma (caused by prolonged exposure to the sun or UV lights, a.k.a. tanning) are things we can control. Would you look at someone with lung cancer or melanoma and say "Well, you decided to smoke/tan. It was a choice you made, so your disease is invalid"? No, you wouldn't. Would you look at someone with diabetes or heart disease and say "Well, you chose to eat poorly and not exercise, so your disease in invalid"? No, you wouldn't.

Yes, addiction starts with the choice of the person to pick up that drug. But their brain and their body literally form a dependency and it is out of their control to whether or not they form an addiction. No one wants to have cancer. No one wants to have diabetes or heart disease. And no one wants to have an addiction to drugs.

While the first use and early stage of addiction is a choice, eventually the brain will change so much that people will lose control of their behavior and will to stop because their body is dependant on the drug. Eating poorly/not exercising is a choice, smoking is a choice and tanning is a choice, yet we accept the diseases that are consequently developed from these choices. Why can we not accept that addiction is also a disease?

It's time society stops turning a blind eye to the facts at hand. Addiction is hereditary, it is degenerative, it can kill, it is a disease. By trying to force the notion that addiction is a choice and not a disease you are preventing people from seeking help from their disease because they fear the societal repercussions. Addiction is a disease, and those suffering deserve all the help that those suffering from other diseases get.

I don't care if you think addiction is a choice; you're wrong. I have presented plenty of backed up facts to prove that this belief is wrong and honestly downright stupid. If you continue to hold onto this notion, you are a part of the problem preventing those affected from getting help.

Addiction is a disease, not a choice. And it's about time we start acting like it.

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A Love Letter To The Girl Who Cares Too Much About Everyone But Herself

You, the girl with a heart full of love and no place big enough to store it all.

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Our generation is so caught up in this notion that it's "cool" not to care about anything or anyone. I know you've tried to do just that.

I'm sure there was a brief moment where you genuinely believed you were capable of not caring, especially since you convinced everyone around you that you didn't. But that just isn't true, is it? Don't be ashamed of this, don't let anyone ridicule you for having emotions.

After everything life has put you through, you have still remained soft.

This is what makes you, you. This is what makes you beautiful. You care so deeply and love so boldly and it is incredible, never let the world take this from you.

Have Your Voice Heard: Become an Odyssey Creator

You are the girl who will give and give and give until you have absolutely nothing left. Some may see this as a weakness, an inconvenience, the perfect excuse to walk all over you. I know you try to make sense of it all, why someone you cared so much about would treat you the way they did.

You'll make excuses for them, rationalize it and turn it all around on yourself.

You'll tell yourself that maybe just maybe they will change even though you know deep down they won't. You gave them everything you had and it still feels as if they took it all and ran. When this happens, remind yourself that you are not a reflection of those who cannot love you. The way that people treat you does not define who you are. Tell yourself this every day, over and over until it sticks. Remind yourself that you are gold, darling, and sometimes they will prefer silver and that is OK.

I know you feel guilty when you have to say no to something, I know you feel like you are letting everyone you love down when you do. Listen to me, it is not your responsibility to tend to everyone else's feelings all the time. By all means, treat their feelings with care, but remember it is not the end of the world when you cannot help them right away.

Remember that it is OK to say no.

You don't have to take care of everyone else all the time. Sometimes it's OK to say no to lunch with your friends and just stay home in bed to watch Netflix when you need a minute for yourself. I know sometimes this is much easier said than done because you are worried about letting other people down, but please give it a try.

With all of this, please remember that you matter. Do not be afraid to take a step back and focus on yourself. You owe yourself the same kind of love and patience and kindness and everything that you have given everyone else. It is OK to think about and put yourself first. Do not feel guilty for taking care of yourself. You are so incredibly loved even when it doesn't feel like it, please always remember that. You cannot fill others up when your own cup is empty. Take care of yourself.

Cover Image Credit: Charcoal Alley

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I Don't Smoke Weed Because I've Learned My Lesson, I Don't Need To Repeat It

The dumbest decision of my life formed my lifelong opinion on weed.

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Let's be realistic here, most of you guys have tried it, and if you haven't, you most likely will come across it at some point in your life. Yes, I'm talking about weed. Dope. Kush. Marijuana. Mary Jane. Whatever you call it, you know what I'm referring to. It's a pretty crazy thing, right? A college student who doesn't like getting high? Who would've thought?

There's a reason why I can't smoke weed, and why every time I do smoke weed, I turn into a complete anxious mess and end up calling my parents asking to be taken to the hospital.

I'm not exactly sure why I'm using this platform to tell a bunch of strangers why I don't smoke weed, and I know I'm definitely just asking to get shit on by the majority of my friends who already think I'm a tweak. I also know that I'm about to get hardcore judged by some of you for the ill-advised decision I made my sophomore year of high school. But trust me, there's no need for that because I've learned my lesson. It truly is the one day of my life that I wish I could do over, because here I am, nearly 4 years later, still coming to terms with the consequences of my sixteen-year-old stupidity.

It was the day I got my driver's license, and I was pumped to finally be able to drive around without my dad nagging at me from the passenger seat. So, as any newly-licensed juvenile would, I picked up my friend for a joyride.

It started off as a pretty normal day. We drove to the city, blasting music obnoxiously with the windows down, screaming at pedestrians, completely immersed in the freedom we were handed.

We were both high off of the idea that we were on our own. Driving around on that sunny day in December, we felt invincible with our newfound independence. Nothing could have ruined our mood during that drive, not even rush hour traffic.

However, that feeling quickly came crashing down.

After returning home from our adventure, we established that we didn't want our fun to end, so naturally, we decided to get high. As inexperienced sophomores, we didn't exactly have the equipment to do so, so we reverted to our next best option: sitting in my drawer was an edible that I had bought months prior from God knows where. It was a pot brownie concealed from my parents with crinkled tinfoil tucked away in my desk. I still have no clue why I had an edible on hand. I'm almost positive I didn't even know what weed was at the time.

My friend and I contemplated back and forth over whether or not we should take the edible. We didn't know much about weed brownies, or weed in general, but we figured that if we each had half, we would be feeling goooood in no time.

We split the edible in half and each took a piece. Of course, we thought it started working right away. My friend and I were elated and giddy over having our first experience taking an edible. After some time, we thought we were high (we weren't) and decided to go for another drive.

It was dark, and we were about fifteen minutes away from my house when I attempted to do a 3-point turn and continue on with our joyride. It was then that my mind went completely blank, and I forgot how to drive. My vision started to blur, my hands were tingling, and I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I couldn't remember how to use the gearshift, and that was the moment I started to freak out.

I got myself together for a second and told my friend that we had to go home. I started driving in my panicked state until my friend notified me that I had driven through a stop sign without even noticing. I parked my car on the side of the road and took some deep breaths. I thought I was going absolutely crazy. I then got back into the car and turned to my friend and told her she needed to drive me home, but of course, she didn't know how to drive yet. Classic.

It didn't occur to me that I was high out of my mind from the edible I had taken earlier. As the hypochondriac I was (and still am), I went straight to the conclusion that I was having some sort of mental episode which was causing my brain to deteriorate. My heart was pounding out of my chest at a rate that I can only attribute to what a heart attack must feel like, and I was convinced that something was physically wrong with me. Then for the last time, I attempted to drive again, but with little success as I realized I had no clue how to get back to my house. I was stoned.

We pulled into a church parking lot and I stopped the car. I slumped down into my seat and focused on my erratic heartbeat as I turned to my friend and asked her to call an ambulance for me. This by far was the scariest moment of my life, as I thought I was seconds away from death. I felt completely disconnected from my own body and had no clue as to what the hell was going on.

Looking back, my reaction was pretty ridiculous knowing that I was just high off my ass. However, as a young amateur, it was the most terrifying point in my life.

My friend didn't understand what was going on, but she didn't want to call anyone because she was scared of us getting in trouble. In my irrational state, all I wanted to do was talk to my mom, so against my friend's better judgment, I called my parents who were at a movie fairly close to where we were.

I was completely frantic and between sobs as I explained to my mom I was having a heart attack and that she needed to get me to a hospital. Of course, my mom being in a sober state of mind, stayed calm and tried to assess the situation. Here's how the phone call played out:

Me: "Mom you need to come and get me I'm dying. I'm having a heart attack and I don't know what's going on."

My mom (equally as frantic): "Maya you are having a panic attack -- you are fine."

Me: "You have no idea what's going on right now so how would you know?"

My mom: "Well, unless you took something it sounds like you are having a panic attack"

Me: "Mom... I need to tell you something. I took an edible, like with weed in it."

My mom: "Darn it, Maya."

My parents quickly came to pick up their dumbass daughter and equally guilty friend. On the incredibly awkward car ride back to my house, my dad explained to me that I wasn't, in fact dying, but that I was having a panic attack from the edible I had taken. I tried to reason with him and explain that my heart was giving out, but then he explained the symptoms of a panic attack and that's when I started to understand. The rest of that night consisted of me sitting on the couch hyperventilating and unable to swallow, as my parents stood by laughing at me while still holding their disapproving glares.

I'm sure you can probably guess what happened next: after a good night sleep, I was lectured and scolded for hours the next day, and of course, I suffered the consequences of being grounded just in time for New Years. Oh, and I also lost my driving privileges for quite some time. But that was a given.

For those of you who have never experienced the negative effects of marijuana, I wouldn't expect you to understand. You probably think I'm dramatic and that I just "can't hang." Which is true, I really can't hang, but now at least you know the reason why.

I would give anything to take back the stupid decision I made when I was sixteen because the choices I made that night signed me up for a lifelong, binding contract with generalized anxiety and panic disorder. However, that's a story for another time.

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