Many of us when we come into the various 12 step fellowships have no idea what addiction is and when we are sitting in meetings we almost never hear what the definition is. We hear many stories about what types of things people did when they were driven by addiction ad nauseum, and we rarely hear people cut down to the root cause of what was behind these insane behaviors.
The sad part is many old-timers in our fellowships do not even understand what addiction is. They will speak in meetings and everyone will respect what they have to say based on their years of sobriety. However, when they are confronted and asked what addiction actually is, they have a hard time explaining.
I was fortunate enough to learn what addiction really is early on in sobriety and this knowledge has helped me to solidify my sobriety and provide me a solid base to work from. In this post, I will provide this same valuable information that was conveyed to me.
Myths Perpetuated About Addiction
One of the typical myths that is perpetuated in society is that experimentation eventually leads to addiction. The theory goes like this: You pick up a drug, experiment with it, the experimentation leads to dependence, then dependence leads to addiction. This theory is what has lead to our harmful and ineffective drug laws and the general belief that drugs are evil.
The truth of the matter is: You are either born neurologically and biochemically hardwired as an addict or you are not. If you are not physically and mentally hardwired to be an addict, it does not matter what drug you use or how long you use it, you will not become a permanent addict.
It may be true that if you tied someone down and force-fed them heroin or cocaine daily, that they would become physically dependent upon that drug. However, once this person became free and was not being force-fed drugs, only about 15% would stay addicted.
Addiction is a Genetic Disease You Are Born With
Let’s look at an article by John C. Berman M.D. who wrote an article for the University of Pennsylvania's website:
“The Role of Genetics In Addiction
- 100 million people in the U.S. have at least 1 alcoholic drink daily
- 14-20 million are alcoholics
- That means approximately 4 out of 5 people who have at least 1 drink per day are not alcoholics.
Why is that?
Is it because those 14 to 20 million people who are alcoholics have no will power…or they’re just morally inept…or they lack scruples…or they didn’t toilet train properly? Of course not!
It doesn’t make sense. What does make sense is the role of GENETICS…
Initial theories of a single “alcoholic gene” have essentially been disproven by research. We believe that multiple genes play a role in the transmission of addiction from one generation to another. It is called POLYGENIC INHERITANCE
Think of it as a Chinese menu — let’s assume that in order to be an alcoholic you need:
What we learn from the research…
- Alcoholism can skip generations. If parents are not alcoholics, that does not mean that a child cannot be an alcoholic.
- If you have an alcoholic parent, that doesn’t mean you will be an alcoholic.
- While studies show a significant increase in the incidence of alcoholism in the children of alcoholics, the father to son transmission is particularly strong.
- In Type 2 alcoholism, which is relegated to men, the son of an alcoholic father is 9 times at greater risk of being an alcoholic compared to the general population.
- Recent studies suggest that heroin addiction is even more mediated by genes than alcoholism.
If one researches families in which there’s an addicted person, one will invariably find another addicted person in the family — an aunt, uncle, grandfather — sometimes with a different form of addiction — but it’s GENETICS, not willpower, scruples or toilet training, that plays a vital role in determining whether one will have the disease of addiction.
Inpatient treatment — 3 days or 28 days…it’s only the beginning of lifelong treatment. There is no cure for the disease of addiction…and many factors combine to tempt and drive the recovering person to relapse."
The implications of this article by Dr. Berman are profound. Does this mean that drugs and alcohol are not evil? Does this mean that experimentation with drugs and alcohol does not lead to alcoholism and addiction? The answer is yes to both of these questions.
In the universe of drugs and drug addiction, if anything is inherently evil, it is not drugs nor the drug addict, but the disease of addiction itself! What does this mean for parents? This means that for the most part they do not have to worry about their kids becoming addicted to drugs, even if they happen to try hard drugs.
By no means am I encouraging kids to do hard drugs, or parents to let their kids do hard drugs. I'm simply saying that if they happen to try drugs or alcohol, you do not have to worry because the odds are in your favor that they are not genetically predisposed to becoming addicted. Can people do foolish things under the influence of drugs or alcohol even if they are not addicted? Yes. For example, there are many people who have received a D.U.I. (driving under the influence) who are not alcoholics. They just happened to drink one beer over the legal limit for their body weight, were foolish enough to get into a car and drive and get pulled over by the cops. The court may automatically look at such a person as an alcoholic and order them to attend 12 step meetings even though they are not an alcoholic. (Another fine example of why society needs to understand addiction and alcoholism more and treat the disease instead of punishing people with the disease)
Addiction is Not a Lack of Willpower
What are some of the other concepts that we can infer from this article by Dr. Berman? We can come to an understanding that drug addiction has nothing to do with will power. The only people who can use will power to stop using drugs are people who are not addicted in the first place.
Consequently, as an addict who now understands the involuntary nature of addiction, you can tell the truth about addiction to people who claim, "I used to use drugs and alcohol, but one day I decided it was not for me and I used my will power to stop." These people who make these statements are telling the truth: They were able to stop using their will power, however; most likely they are not real addicts who are genetically wired with addiction. You can now tell them, "That may have worked for you, however; I was born with addiction that is genetically hardwired into my body. I cannot stop in much the same way that an obsessive compulsive person who is a hypochondriac cannot stop washing their hands. I need to work the 12 steps and utilize the fellowship in my 12 step program to remain sober." In other words, the only people who need to work the 12 steps and utilize a 12 step fellowship are people who cannot use will power to stop on their own and have proven through their own personal history through trying to quit using their will power perhaps hundreds of times, that using will power has never worked.
In conclusion, we can go one of two routes in understanding addition even though both are the same basic idea. The first option is to try and accept that addiction is strictly determined though genetics and only believe in addiction being a disease through scientific evidence. The second option is to study the basic 12 step texts that use common sense and deductive reasoning. However, both ways will lead to the same conclusion: Genetics play a major role in addiction which means that addiction is a disease that you are born with. Knowing this, we can use the only known solution that has been effective for millions of people which is the 12 steps.
What do you think?