Pen Pals

Addiction Isn't a Disease, I'm Just a Dick

By Bert Burykill


Photo via Flickr user Javier Moreno!

When you’ve been sent back to prison multiple times for dirty pee like I have, you end up thinking a bunch about addiction—whether you’re a screwup or a bona fide addict, and if you’re an addict, what that means. Lots of people define addiction as a “disease,” and the DSM has a whole section on “chemical dependency,” like doing too much nose candy on occasion belongs in the same book as for-real diagnosable nightmares like schizophrenia. I’m of the opinion that whatever is wrong with addicts, they aren’t “sick” the way someone who’s got AIDS or a tumor is sick. 

It’s an insult to anyone with cancer or diabetes to suggest that addiction is a disease of similar nature. Just because some fancy wizard doctor shows that certain brains crave drugs to get their dopamine fix, that doesn’t mean that their cravings are a “disease”—it might be a real problem for a bunch of people, but that doesn’t mean they’re “sick” and need medical treatment to get better.

But don’t take my word for it—read this blog post by neuroscientist Marc Lewis that spells out how it’s downright silly to proclaim that craving experiences is somehow a disease. You can condition yourself to need booze or meth, but you can get the same craving for gambling, or traveling, or mouth-fucking real bonerable chocolate. And you can reverse that conditioning too. Some therapists claim that there is no cure to addiction and that recovering addicts are simply in remission. What a load of cock and balls.

As Dr. Lewis writes, a lot of the time this reverse conditioning happens without drugs, treatment, or sending the “diseased” addict to prison for a while. Once an addicted individual gets sick of their way of life, suddenly they are “cured,” mostly through getting control of their lives and giving a fuck about themselves. Lewis says, “Alcoholics (which can be defined in various ways) recover ‘naturally’ (independent of treatment) at a rate of 50–80 percent depending on your choice of statistics (but see this link for a good example).” Imagine if folks with real physiological illnesses could get better by trying real hard.

So why did the medical community decide to establish “addiction” as a disease? Why is there a whole subculture of Americans spending decades in and out of rehab, halfway houses, and jails, wasting unimaginable amounts of taxpayer money while being coddled with the dogma that they are helpless and diseased? It seems lots of these victims need to be empowered and put into school or given a job rather than sitting in group therapy for six hours a day talking about drugs and how addiction rules their life. At some point, you need to move on, but with recovery they just beat it in your head repeatedly. If you relapse and piss dirty, you reboot and do another six months of counseling, and so the cycle continues.

In New York, a huge portion of the people in therapy are MICA (Mentally Ill Chemically Addicted) patients, meaning that they get the worst of both words—there’s so much wrong with their brains that they need to go to rehab and retrain themselves to not need street drugs, then get addicted to legal prescription drugs. Some of these psychotropic drugs, such as Seroquel, will make a person seem slow and half asleep. Rehabs hand out all sortsa awful shit like it’s candy. Benzos, like Xanax, and Clonopin are as addictive as a substance comes, and they fuck you up. I went to a rehab once, and the first day I was there, some dope-dealing doctor, after talking to me for five minutes, tried to put me on Neurontin, Prozac, Wellbutrin, and Trazodone. I told him he was crazy.

I’ve always been the guy in denial in all the groups they make me go to, and this pisses off a lot of people, including those close to me. I try to explain to everyone that I was making very poor decisions even before I knew what a drug was, and chances are I’ll continue to make dumb maneuvers long after drug abuse is no longer a part my life.

I even admit that I have a problem with partying sometimes 'cause of the negative consequences I incur, but I’ll never give into the whole notion that I am addicted or that I have a disease. The first step of the Twelve Steps is “we admit that we are powerless over our addiction.” I have never once felt like that. When I’ve used and gotten in trouble I’ve thought, very clearly, I feel like getting fucked up, and I’m going to get away with it. A couple times I didn’t get away with it, and they stuck their boot in my ass. It’s understandable that it’s almost easier to explain away my problems by accepting that I have a brain disorder that’s responsible for my inexplicable decision-making. Yeah, being the victim of a malicious brain disease is much better than just being a stupid prick.

Bert Burykill is the pseudonym of our prison correspondent, who has spent time in a number of prisons in New York State. He tweets here.

Previously: Dying of a Dirty Mouth

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