Addiction is a disease — Why this addict is absolutely sure
Is addiction to drugs a disease? How about alcohol dependence? It’s an ongoing debate in the media, around kitchen tables, and online — especially with with New Jersey's opiate crisis getting more and more out of control.
I know where I stand: I’m certain that addiction is a disease. I say this as a former IV drug user and someone who pays very close attention to the rapidly evolving science of addiction. I’ve seen the brain scans of drug addicts. Definitely diseased. And I see addiction as very clearly a medical issue.
As a former drug addict, my disease was self-inflicted. It was the result of bad behavior and poor judgement. And there's a common school of thought that calling addiction a disease is a cop out — that it gives drug users more latitude to do the crappy things that drug addicts do to get by. In some cases that’s the case; there’s always someone trying to game the system.
But I want to be clear about this: heroin addicts who won’t admit the role they played in their own misfortune will not succeed in recovery. You have to accept responsibility for your mistakes to be forgiven. But taking responsibility when you’re a drug addict in the throes of active addiction, you know, that’s not happening. That doesn't happen until after detox and rehab. For this ex-junkie, it took about six months to start to fix all that.
When New Jersey 101.5’s Judi Franco wrote "A 12-step guide to show that ‘drug addiction is NOT a disease" back in April, it went crazy viral. For weeks it was trending. I thought it came off a little snarky and insensitive, but Judi is one of my best friends at New Jersey 101.5 and I know that if, say, I relapsed she’d be first in line with tough love, a hug — and there to kick my ass. Judi’s my friend and I’m glad she gave me a jumping off point for this discussion.
I was able to join her to hash it out on the Dennis and Judi show — with D&J, as well as with the callers. I've had the opportunity to discuss the science with the folks at Carrier Clinic, who really know the ins and outs of what addiction does to the brain. And I've spent time with former Gov. Jim McGreevey, who's seen what a medical approach to addiction treatment does for the former prisoners he's helping build new lives.
That's all part of this week's edition of "Heroin Uncut — The Truth About the Crisis," a special podcast and video series from New Jersey 101.5. Watch the full episode above, or listen below.
Revisit past episodes of Heroin Uncut below:
• How to use Narcan — Learn in 3 minutes — For the last few months, New Jersey residents have been able to purchase naloxone — the opioid antidote better known by the brand name Narcan — without a prescription, even at pharmacies that don't have their own medical directors. The broad availability is just one aspect of the state's ongoing fight against heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkiller addiction.
• Rehab, jail and hard truths: What addicts say we don’t understand — Vince, Erik and Brian are on their way to recovery — with help. They also know well the way the systems meant to help them fall short, but with change could bring more addicts back from the brink.
• Marijuana vs. opioids — One is illegal, the other is killing us — has always believed that maybe, just maybe, if we regulated prescription opiates half as zealously as we regulate medical cannabis, we’d avoid a world of hurt.
• Taking note on addiction — hard lessons learned by NJ journalists. Everyone's talking about the opioid crisis — because it's everywhere. But too few of those making the important decisions and trying to bring light to the problem really understand it.
• Carter Stone was a Jersey boy. And when he died of a heroin overdose at the age of 32, his grieving family was predictably distraught — like any other family in their position would be. But what’s different about this family is the message it left behind.
• The heroes and villains of New Jersey’s opioid crisis — New Jersey’s heroin crisis did not create itself. Big Pharma, greedy lobbyists, and dimwitted policy makers created the perfect conditions for addiction to take hold and to thrive.
• How Narcan, a great cop and a convicted killer saved my life — No conversation so far has stood out more than then one Jay had with Anthony — a recovering addict who recounted his experience being revived with Narcan.
• The Opioid Industrial Complex — This is who gets rich off your addiction
— Acknowledging that addiction is big business helps clear up what’s really driving New Jersey’s opioid crisis:
• Narcan is saving lives — and that’s bad news — Narcan is an important tool in our war against opiates. But our reliance on it means things have already gone too far:
• Needle exchanges — Why NJ must give drug users syringes right now — An uncomfortable solution? You bet. It’s also why host HIV-positive and drug-recovering host Jay Lassiter doesn’t have hepatitis today:
• Heroin Uncut: Defining New Jersey’s drug problem — Our language about drugs is a jumbled mess. If we don’t understand the problem, we can’t fix it:
New episodes are released every Saturday.
Heroin Uncut is sponsored by Carrier Clinic, providing behavioral healthcare services in New Jersey since 1910.