Independence Day has a special meaning for those of us in recovery, and that’s such an obvious connection that I’m not going to belabor it further. I do want to mention, however, that despite all our advantages here in the USA — and in Western civilization as a whole — there is still a lot to be done with regard to addictions of all kinds, from alcoholism to the currently popular prescription drugs.
One of the things we need to improve is the judgmental attitude of many Americans when it comes to addictive disease. This has changed for the better over the years, but we still have a long way to go educating people that addiction is a disease and that, regardless of our reasons for drinking alcohol or using other drugs initially, we did not choose to become addicts, nor to ruin our own lives or those of others. It is perfectly natural for folks who have been impacted by the behavior of alcoholics and other addicts to resent us. We leave trails of wreckage behind us in most cases, and there are few people in America who haven’t had their lives or those of loved ones affected by addiction in some way.
But did I choose addiction? Did you? I didn’t, and I’ve never spoken with anyone who did. Did I choose to drink and use drugs? Yes, but millions of people do that without problems, and I had no reason to think it would be any different for me. Did I feel that I had no choice but to continue using alcohol and other drugs after I was addicted? Absolutely. I was convinced that I would die an addict, but that I would also die if I tried to quit using — a classic “double bind,” shrinks call it. It’s as close to a miracle as I could want, that the right combination of things happened to get me on the road to recovery.
The reality of addiction differs from what many believe. It is absolutely imperative that we get the people who consider addicts to be morally corrupt to understand the reality of the disease.
Major changes need to be made before we can approach the goal of getting the addiction epidemic under control. We need changes in the criminal justice system, so that addicts get the treatment they need instead of being incarcerated and then put back on the streets with no prospects. That’s no way to keep people from using again and returning to criminal lives. We need to throw a lot of money into research. We need sensible regulation of legal drugs that are addictive. The mish-mash of treatment protocols needs to be studied with an eye to determining best practices. And, while I am a rabid supporter of the 12-step model of recovery, we also need to develop continuing support systems for those who believe, for one reason or another, that the various fellowships are not for them.
My purpose on this Independence Day is to applaud and thank the many people in Federal, State, and even local government who are advocating for this critical health issue. Addiction, including nicotine addiction is, by far, the primary cause of preventable death in America. There is an overwhelming body of evidence to the effect that treatment is much cheaper than dealing with the results. We can’t afford to waste money on ineffective measures in this economy, and the waste in human lives lost and ruined is disgraceful in a country that aspires to be the best of the best.
Writers like me can only do so much. We are preaching to the choir, since our audience is composed primarily of recovering people and addiction professionals. I want to encourage you to get involved in these issues. Educate yourself about the politics of addiction. Advocate with your governmental representatives. Support any efforts toward dealing with this disease that you can. Spread the word, in a gentle way and by example, that we are good people. You are the only addiction educator that most people will ever meet, and are also the people best equipped to influence the actions of legislators and their advisors.
The recovery community stepped up when we needed help. Now it’s our turn.