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Letter: Addiction Is Not a Choice

To the Editor:

While Thomas Wansleben suggests that addicts ought to make better choices, addiction science suggests that is not always possible (“Addicts Must Take Responsibility,” Forum, Feb. 21). Addiction as a reflection of moral character and choice takes us back to an earlier time. Science now shows that addiction, including alcoholism, is not a simple phenomenon. Addiction stems from multiple causes and is not a matter of choice.

Medical providers use a medical model to understand addiction. Drugs activate reward systems in the brain, which makes people feel pleasure and creates memories. Each individual has a unique tolerance to drugs and alcohol; the effects of drugs or alcohol are individually specific. Individuals may have genetic predispositions and different brain inhibitory circuits. Addiction is a disease, just as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and so on are diseases.

Addiction is not a choice. DHMC’s drug treatment unit speaks of stages of change. Those who suffer from substance use disorders are not necessarily aware of the disease of addiction. Recovery is a lifelong process. Most people come into drug treatment in a state of unawareness or ambivalence. Stereotyping addiction sufferers as immoral characters is not helpful. It is a shame-based concept that perpetuates the addiction problem and discourages a person from reaching out for help. Who would choose to feel worse about themselves than they already feel? This is why it is so hard to enter recovery programs.

Christopher D. Luce

East Thetford