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Is Addiction a Choice?

"The choice of addiction is like someone telling you to use willpower to stop diarrhea”

If we believe addiction is a choice, and our loved one keeps "choosing" addiction over us and their family, that can leave us feeling angry, frustrated, let down, unloved, anxious, and stressed.

I want to share with you why I don't believe anybody wakes up every morning and says "today I choose addiction over my family, my kids, my health, my safety, my career, my freedom, and ultimately my life".

If you were to ask your loved one - What does addiction do for you in the short term? Here are some of the answers you might receive.

  1. Respite from anxiety

  2. Numbs the pain

  3. Fills the void

  4. Peace

  5. A sense of control

  6. To feel like I matter

  7. A rush, excitement, being alive

  8. Escape from...

Who reading this does not want respite from anxiety?

Who would not want to avoid pain, and find some inner peace in their life?

Is there anyone who does not want to feel in control of their life, to feel like they matter in the world?

And who does not want to feel the rush of excitement, to feel alive?

These are all good and reasonable things that we all want in our lives, but for our loved one's with addiction, their brains did not develop for them to be able to experience these things the way "normal" people do, for the most part, because of the experiences they have had in their lives.

Someone who is addicted simply has a brain that is wired differently, because it did not get the stimulation that cultivated healthy brain function. And for them, the first time they used alcohol or a drug of abuse… it probably felt wonderful. It made them able to feel all the things that everyone else can feel all the time. When you think about it, who would want to turn that down? Who would want to stop doing that? Who wouldn’t want to do that compulsively?

Our loved ones are not choosing addiction. The drug or behaviour is something that alleviates their pain. Maybe the pain is boredom, or depression, or anxiety or a feeling that they are not loveable, or a belief that no one will love them if they see who they really are. Maybe the pain is of not being comfortable at a party with friends or perhaps the drug simply gives them joy and pleasure that they are lacking. They have found a solution to a problem.

For our loved ones, struggling with addiction, the things they use that make them feel good, started out by making their brains feel things they have always wanted to be able to feel, but maybe didn’t know was possible. They are not choosing addiction, they are choosing a solution they have found to a problem

"Lucy helped me through a really tough period in which I felt alone, confused, very stressed, and completely at a loss for how to deal with what was happening in my world. She shone a light on the situation (of living with an addicted partner) which seemed very scary at the time and impossible to manage. She taught me about what was happening neurologically to my partner, how to separate him from the addiction, how/when to talk to him and address the situation so that it didn’t turn into a chaotic mess and so that I was heard, and how to protect my own mental state through all of this. I felt supported, no longer alone, and finally understood what was happening. Things like this don’t change overnight but with Lucy’s help I now have awareness and I know what I need to do to help my husband and myself". (MR 2021)

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