For probably four thousand years, people have had to deal with addiction. Drug addiction and alcoholism are two of the most misunderstood issues in today’s society. And until the late 1930s people probably had good reason to believe those issues were of a moral nature. Then a man named William Wilson and his friend, Dr. Robert Silkworth, took a different view of the issue. Dr. Bob, as he was known, defined alcoholism, and by default addiction, as a medical issue and not a moral issue.
The start of both alcoholism and addiction is a matter of choice. But there is a marked difference between the alcoholic to be and others in taking their first drink. The alcoholic to be uses a drink as one would take aspirin for a headache, to him it is medication. The same is true for the addict to be. And this means that there is far more to this disease than meets the eye. It means that absent an historical view of the individual, it is easy to lay blame at the feet of the alcoholic or addict. But that is simply not the case.
Alcoholics and addicts share common traits: past traumas, untreated psychological issues, and sometimes other medical issues. Taking the last first, it is not uncommon for a person who is prescribed one of the opioid medications to become addicted through long-term use. This means that once the physical necessity has passed a psychological necessity kicks in. Where a well-grounded person will overcome this short-term addiction, the psychologically damaged person will not even try. Or if he does try, will give into temptation.
One of the most common expressions in use in our society today is: “After that, I need a drink!” Or, “If you had to put up with that, you’d need a drink too.” The simple fact is, there has never lived the person who truly “needed a drink.” What such people are seeking is an escape. Most of those people will not become alcoholics but some will. But our society does not challenge the idea of a drink of alcohol as ever being a necessity.
For the most part, alcoholism and drug addiction starts at a young age. In meetings of alcoholics anonymous the story of getting drunk in the early teen years is quite common. But even though nationally the drinking age is 21, underage drinking is not only common but accepted. That being true, the fault lies in our society’s mores. With society allowing teens to have parties with alcohol, they are not considering that the use of drugs in such parties becomes quite possible. It is well-known that alcohol and drug addiction usually starts at a young age. This means as a society, we can do something about it by become vigilant and not turning our heads to underage drinking.
Medical research has shown that the brain is not fully formed in females until about their 21st birthday and for males it is even later. Research at the University of Rochester suggests that full development for everyone is about the 25th year. (https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?ContentTypeID=1&ContentID=3051)
It is also well documented that the use of alcohol and drugs retards the growth of the brain as-well-as a person’s psychological growth. Sadly, the incident of alcoholism and drug addiction by age 25 is extremely high relative to other age groups after the 25th year. But this same research has shown that the person who becomes the alcoholic or addict has his ability to choose against drinking or drugging taken away. Alcohol and drug use has gone from choice to necessity. This, by definition, puts it into the category of a medical disease.
This all brings me to the law the state of Florida just passed requiring drug screening of welfare applicants. If a person tests positive for a banned substance, they are denied access to welfare. The problem with this approach is that is simply exacerbates the situation. It seems the rationale behind such a law is to curb the use of illegal drugs by welfare applicants. But that of course ignores the fact that these are sick people who need to get well and not bad people who need to become good.
It is time we all become “our brother’s keeper.” I mean that in the sense that we as a society must become responsible for all those suffering from alcoholism, drug addiction and all forms of mental disease and disorder. A disease of the mind is difficult to both understand and treat but it is none the less a disease just as getting the flu, cancer, or malaria is. We do not stigmatize, for the most part, people who contract diseases in the rest of the body, why must we continue to stigmatize those with diseases centered in the brain?