Addiction is a terrible thing. The addict is desperate for drugs and does terrible things to get them. Once he has them he doesn’t give a damn about anyone or anything. It is as if his soul is possessed by the devil. Of course, we are not religious and we don’t believe that literally. There is a scientific explanation for why the addict acts with such malice. His goal is not to hurt people; he is lying and cheating and stealing to get the drug. Although the child seems like a demon, he is actually in the throes of a medical disease and must be dealt with compassionately. In fact, entire industries were created to treat and research this disease. If you want to find a rehab, there are many. It’s a tough disease, but it can be treated. Never cured, of course, but treated. And people get better.
As you know from this web site, this is all BS: Addiction is a myth. There is no such thing as ‘drug addiction’ or ‘alcoholism’. Drug addicts take drugs by choice. It is not a compulsion or disease. Therefore all drug addicts are either liars, or they have been brainwashed.
I know, this is hard to believe. So let’s start with a story:
There is a boy and he is cute and sweet and people seem to like him. But there is a problem. This boy does things he shouldn’t do. He lies about where he was and what time he’s coming home. He is often late. He hurts people ‘by accident’. He injures the family cat. He develops a fascination with knives and is found playing with them.
Is he blatantly defying his parents? No, it seems he is not rebellious. He does these things secretly and does not seem to want his parents to know. They find out only by accident or coincidence. So this cannot be open defiance. Plus he always has a reasonable explation for his behavior, followed by a ready hug. He is an innocent boy and there is no reason not to trust him.
Many boys do things they shouldn’t do. They do bad things and they are punished, or they feel guilty or ashamed, and they never do them again. They’ve learned their lesson.
But this boy is different. He does things he should know he shouldn’t do. The behavior continues. This cannot all be just coincidence. He doesn’t seem to learn and sometimes doesn’t seem even to want to learn. The parents are in a quandry. What can they do? His behavior starts to seem intentional. It happens despite punishment and pleading. What is going on here? This is not supposed to happen! From Parenting 101: you tell the child it’s wrong and they stop doing it. But with this boy, you tell him it’s wrong and he starts doing it! It’s as if he is doing these things purposefully! Could it be? Even worse: sometimes it feels like he is doing these things just to be hurtful and cause pain.
No. It couldn’t be. This child simply doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. He is still a child, and this is normal for children. Sometimes it takes longer for some children than for others, and maybe sometimes they are a little rebellious. Maybe this is actually healthy. “My child will be fine,” the parent believes.
The child is disruptive in class. He is sent to the school counselor. He is diagnosed with ADHD and an impulse control disorder: he does things he shouldn’t do but he can’t help it. It’s a compulsion. He needs to learn to identify his compulsion when it happens and stop it before acting on it. It’s a disability, and the child must be treated with compassion. Do not punish the child – this will only make things worse. It will take time and patience.
Is this boy a monster? An incipient psychopath? No, this is just normal growing pains.
He is put on adderol to improve focus and reduce distraction. Things seems to improve for a while. They boy seems better at times, and other times seems even worse. Let’s give it time….
After a few months they taper the boy off. It seems there are side effects. Sometimes he can’t fall asleep until the early hours of the morning. And he has started to act out in other ways. The experiment fails, but we were not happy about giving the child drugs in the first place.
He is caught stealing a toy from a toy store. This is the problem with impulse control: he wants something and then he must have it. He cannot control his impulse. We must work on impulse control. But there is something strange here: the toy is not the kind of toy the child would actually ever play with. Quite the opposite. The child has typically scorned in this type of toy.
The child goes to a school presentation about drugs. He learns that drugs are very bad. So why would someone take them? Often, you take them because your friend does. It is called ‘peer pressure’. The child doesn’t have friends, so he is not concerned. “This won’t affect me because I don’t have ‘peer pressure’,” he thinks. Then they describe what happens when you take drugs for too long: you become addicted. You can’t stop taking them. What does this mean exactly? What happens when you run out? What happens is this: when you run out you feel so sick and terrible, and you are so desperate to get drugs again that you steal something to get money to buy them (because drugs are very expensive). Then when you get caught stealing, they take you to jail. Jail is a very bad place, and there is no air conditioning so it is very hot all the time. There is no TV or XBox and people will hurt you and no one will protect you. This sounds terrible. “I will not do drugs,” the boy promises himself.
The child learns more about drugs. Someone says that drugs are fun and make you feel good. This is not appealing to the boy. “I feel fine,” he thinks to himself. “I don’t need drugs.” He sees a TV show with a strung out drug addict sitting on the street corner: this is what happens when you do drugs. “What a loser,” the boy thinks.
But the troubling behavior continues. The boy sometimes seems angry or depressed without any obvious cause. He picks fights and makes fun of a fat girl. Arriving at school, he always seems to have forgotten something: homework, pencil, note. At home, he sits on and breaks his younger brother’s toy.
He does things he KNOWS he shouldn’t do. But really it’s more than that: he does things he knows everyone else knows he knows he shouldn’t do. Is he seeking attention? Is there a desire to be punished? But punishments seem to have no effect. Let’s focus on rewards instead.
The next year there is another assembly on drugs. He learns more about addiction. The drug addict does terrible things. He lies and cheats. He hangs around with the wrong people. He does not love his family any more and even steals things from them. He gets into trouble. He robs stores. He does these things because he is addicted to drugs and he must do whatever he can to get the money to buy more. Then when he’s ‘high’, he ignores everyone else. He doesn’t listen to his parents or teachers or do his homework. His grades fall. He knows these things are bad but he cannot stop using despite his best efforts. At first he did drugs to ‘feel good’ but now he does them to avoid feeling really, really bad. He is a slave to the drug. Every one tries to help him but it’s no use. He is hopelessly addicted. Again, he is caught stealing. This time he sent to jail for many years. His friend has overdosed and is found dead. This is the lesson of drugs: “You will end up dead or in jail. Don’t do drugs. Just say no.”
The child listens intently. He wonders what it feels like to be on drugs. He wonders what it feels like to be compelled to do things that are bad, and to have no control or ability to stop. There is something strangely appealing about that. But there is a problem: he still has no friends. Where will the ‘peer pressure’ come from? Oh well, he thinks, not here in school. Everyone here is so nice. He forgets about drugs.
The he goes to middle school. It is a larger school with students from different parts of town. In health class one day there is another discussion of drugs. He hears it all again: the lying, cheating and stealing. The loss of respect for your family. The inability to control your actions. Having to do awful things just to get the drug. He looks around the room. There is a girl in the class who is looking out the window with a scowl.
He goes into his parent’s liquor cabinet and takes a little alcohol from each bottle, not enough to be noticeable, but when taken together it fills a small soda bottle all the way to the top. It is her idea. He holds it to his nose and the smell is terrible. The taste must be bad too. How bad could it be?
By far it is the worst thing he ever tasted and his mouth recoils reflexively. He can’t believe anything could taste so terrible or that people actually drink this stuff. But he forces it down — at first in very tiny sips. They are drinking out behind the school. For the first 15 minutes they have made little progress on the bottle. She is not drinking much either; she also finds it distasteful. But he is determined. Something in him says to drink, to drink until he is good and drunk, to drink until it is all gone. The drink starts to flow more easily and he can take small sips. About half way through she tells him to stop, and she is serious and seems legitimately scared. But the spirit is in him, and sensing her fear only makes him want to drink more. In 20 minutes he has downed the bottle. In another 20 minutes he is thoroughly drunk and sick and scared, but also excited. He throws up. They remain for a while and he starts to feel better. They go home. He tells his parents he ate too much candy after school and feels sick, and goes to his room for the night. He feels what it feels like to be drunk and terribly sick.
He doesn’t touch alcohol again until high school. In college he drinks beer, and it’s relatively moderate. He prefers pot. Later he will prefer meth and ecstasy; these become his drugs of choice. Usually he carefully controls the dosage. But some days – like when his parents nag him to go back to school or get a job – he will overdo it, and take multiple doses. He can’t help it. It is a compulsion. Something inside him makes him do it — even though he says to himself, “Don’t overdo it.” He tries to remember what the counselor taught him in elementary school, as he’s bringing the smoldering pipe to his lips. Think consequences: is this really what you want? He thinks about the next few days of partying and the cute girl he met last week. He chuckles — if the counselor only knew.
[Fast forward 10 years....]
After a long career as a drug addict and seller, a police record and many stints in jail and rehab, having injured many people both mentally and physically, and having dragged his family through years of hell, the boy finally overcomes his addiction. How? Somehow get got himself to an AA meeting. At the meeting he suddenly realizes that he has to get sober and checks into rehab. Now it’s the weekly AA meetings that keep him sober — this is the only thing that ever worked for him. He goes back to school and decides that he wants to help others with the same problem he had. After all, he’s been through the pain so he can understand and can help like no one else.
The drug addiction has been licked. He is free of this terrible disease. However, he still has a problem with impulse control. He sadly accepts that it will be a life-long struggle.
But he stands as a testament to the success of the treatment industry. He even speaks at local schools to warn children of the dangers of drugs.
AddictionMyth gratefully acknowledges Addiction expert Dr. Adi Jaffe for his contribution to this article.