In Response to Holly

This is written in response to Hip Sobriety’s Post Hi, My Name is Holly, and I’m NOT an Alcoholic *. (*Because there is no such thing)  Holly Glenn Whitaker is a fantastic blogger who discusses her views on addiction as well as her path to finding balance.  Her post can be found here. In the post Holly creates a list of, “nine reasons why she feels the words alcoholic and alcoholism should die.”  This is an exert to my response to that original post.  It will be submitted to her blog as a guest post upon its completion.  As always if you know anyone who might benefit from our message please send it along to them.  Enjoy!

It asserts that it’s normal to consume an addictive substance with ease, and abnormal to not be able to.  

It is normal to consume an addictive substance moderately and not become dependant. Allow me to paint the picture for you.  Imagine there are ten students in Mr. Cards eighth grade. All ten school mates have their wisdom teeth removed that year and each one is given a seven day supply of Vicodin. With all variables equal to this point what happens next illustrates my fundamental disagreement with this claim.  Nine students take the Vicodin for two or three days and are fine. The remaining student took all their prescription day one, then proceeded to purchase the nine half filled bottles from his mates who didn’t bother to even finish the scrips. Whether it be alcohol, opiates, or other any drug, the human body can- under an ideal set of circumstances- handle these substances with relative ease.  Societies broad acceptance of alcohol abuse doesn’t support the premise of regular, even excessive, consumption being the norm without adverse effect.

It suggests the problem lives on the extreme end of the spectrum – addiction. And that’s not where the majority of problem drinking is.  90% of problem drinkers are not addicted.

While I mostly agree with this rationale, I would like to propose a slightly different perspective.  Yes, I agree that drinking leads to addiction, but is it possible for addiction to precede drinking or the presence of an addictive substance?  It’s commonly accepted that there are two forms (physical and mental) of addiction. My personal experience has convinced me that addiction can manifest in either of these forms.  An addict, for example the one in the above hypothetical, can become psychologically “addicted” prior to developing a chemical dependency. Our society offers citizens the free will to decide for themselves if they’d like to consume alcohol.  A choice not intended to be made lightly, as the US does require you to be 21 years of age to consume booze. However, US citizens can literally go across the pond and die for this country before they can buy a beer (although that’s a whole different conversation).  My point is this, the majority of problem drinking comes from excessive consumers rather than addicts because 90% of the population would not be considered addicts. The 40% of normal folks defined as “problem drinkers” are inadequately accessing the risks of excessive alcohol consumption.  It’s not suggesting the problem lives on the spectrum’s extremes: it is recognizing a subgroup that does not have the capacity to abstain for consumption while accepting that the majority of alcohol abuse can be contributed to poor risk assessment. Societal views on indulgence and drunkenness is beyond the scope of influence; although, I’m uncertain what adequate or meaningful prevention programs or treatment for those who drink in excess would look like.  “You’re doing a bad job evaluating the consequences of your actions, try and work your way back to the sweet spot where you consume but not to the point of chemical dependence? We treat ADDICTION because addiction is a TANGIBLE, TREATABLE PROBLEM. You can’t “treat” poor decision making, just like you can’t cure stupid. Furthermore, you can’t treat a problem you can’t identify. Using your analogy: once someone has amassed the girth needed for morbid obesity and gastric bypass surgery is an option, then a procedure can be done.  In an ironic twist, this circulates back to risk assessment. You can suggest to Uncle George to stop eating two Big Macs a day, in the same fashion you can suggest to Uncle Spero to ease up on the Vodka Cranberries during Greek Easter, either way until a tangible problem presents itself it will be their decision.

It scares the shit out of people. It creates fear. Fear that you will always crave. Fear that you will forever have to use willpower.

I agree with all that you say on this point.  It is my belief that the entire lens in which we view addiction needs radical change.  I subscribe to the belief that it’s less about the substances than it is an obsessive compilation.  The stigma, and accompanying labels, do more harm than anything.

It asserts that the majority of drinkers drink “normally” and are able to control alcohol.

I disagree with the implied assertion that the majority of drinkers drink “normally.”  I believe the premise “able to control alcohol” is paramount in our discussion. 90% of the population fall on the “normies” spectrum.  You yourself say, “Alcohol is an addictive substance. End of story. And everyone who consumes it to some degree has to exert control over it. I’m not asserting that everyone is hooked on it.”  Remember when I mentioned addiction as physical or mental, and I hypothesized that it can be brought on from either chemical or psychological dependence? That’s the group that does not meet the requirements for “normie,” the 10% of the population, I’ll define as “pure addicts”, where the psychological component of addiction is active and present before a substance.  I’ll concede there, “are degrees of control unique to each one of us, unique to our genetic make-up, our exposure, our trauma, our other coping mechanisms, the age we started drinking, our environment, our anxiety, our depression, our peers, and on.” We all fall onto the spectrum of susceptibility but it’s this segment that does not have the capacity for control.

It keeps us stuck in a story.

The beauty in the lie.  First, let me provide you with a little on my background: I’ve enjoyed AA/NA, I don’t actively do recovery life or work a program but I do enjoy the camaraderie it offers.  Twelve Step Programs are explicitly labeled non-religious religions. Call it spiritual, not religious, if it tickles your fancy the words we choose don’t matter in comparison to reality.  It’s not my intention to speak ill towards the fellowship. It’s the same story, Jews are different, Christians, Muslims, whatever your theological flavor might be. They’re all uniquely different, facing their own distinct struggle, all the while seeking strength and guidance from a higher power that surpasses our understanding.  Why subscribe to it then? Because it works, alcoholics and junkies are the most hope deprived wandering lost souls I’ve met and do you know what has shown to be the greatest source of hope over the course of human history? RELIGION! The faces you see in an AA meeting are in attendance because they had an absence of hope for a significant period of life.  The meetings brought some degree of hope back to their lives. Sure, our stories are still being written, but the AA faithful don’t care if it’s limiting because it offered a return to normalcy. I will admit I am far more impressed with Holly the writer, speaker, life coach, and addiction advocate than I would have been of Holly the alcoholic.

It is the only drug in the world where, when you stop taking it, you are seen as having disease.

I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion, stopping any sort of drug with abuse potential could be seen as also fitting your definition.  Addiction carries a stigma and serves as a scapegoat. A simple open discussion on it is enough to make some uncomfortable. Perhaps, because it serves as a mirror into self-reflection regarding one’s own indulgence.  There’s a saying in rehab about changing faces and places. When I made the choice to open up completely about my journey it never felt as though people viewed me as diseased. I’ve never had that thought before and it fascinated me.  Personally I view it as a disease, but it feels more appropriate to describe it as an aspect of my identity. Maybe remission would be the appropriate term? It could just be my inner circle, but it felt like a disease that I wasn’t actively deal with.  Jason Vale’s book Kick The Drink…Easily! reference strengthens my point.  Addiction isn’t just a concept and does have validity as a disease.  Alcoholism, substance dependency, nymphomania, and gambling are all manifestations of addiction.  

It’s an “incurable disease.”

How we see ourselves is the essence of perspective.  Earlier you identified yourself as a non-drinker. I’m Nick, I’m an addict.  It is what it is, and what that really means is my brain doesn’t understand the difference between pleasure and happiness.  At this point in my journey, I’m conscious of that. In my case, addiction manifests in anything that brings pleasure; today that might be a project or writing a blog till 3 am because I have an obsessive compulsion.  For most people the need for alcohol is caused by alcohol. I don’t fall within the scope of “most people” because it’s not adequately encompassing. The root of confusion between pleasure and happiness creates a psychological dependency to all things resulting in pleasure.  If we were to define addiction as adversely affecting other aspects of life then I have turned every conceivable pleasure inducing stimuli into an addiction. If your addicted to pleasure and drugs cause a pleasure overload it might just be fucking possible to become addicted before chemical dependency.  If you’re addicted to a feeling and something external provides that feeling ten times over then it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to think of addiction as an actual thing, does it?