Free Will and Addiction: Is it a Choice?

Drug abuse and addiction are perhaps some of the hardest battles people have ever fought. Some are successful at defeating it but most of the time, people struggle off and on. Think of how many celebrities died because of drug addiction and overdose? Actors, actresses, musicians, artists, and people outside of those careers have their own struggles with substance abuse. So the question remains, is it really their choice to be addicted? Do they have a choice or free will? 

A Choice or a Disease?

A lot of people think that being addicted to drugs or alcohol is a choice. Perhaps to a mind that is normal, choosing to do or not do drugs/drink alcohol is an easy choice but do addicts have a choice on whether they take it or not? Is this condition a result of their free will? 

Studies have shown and confirmed that addiction is a long-term brain disease that can happen to all of us. According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine and American Medical Association, addiction is a disease caused by a combination of genetics & environmental and behavioral factors. A person’s brain is created and designed to seek out a rewarding experience caused by the chemical dopamine. Because our brains remember these actions, the result is often due to the release of this chemical over and over again. This is also the reason why a person is addicted to drugs and alcohol because these substances often trigger the release of dopamine.

Despite this being proven to be true, a lot of people believe that addiction is a result of weakness or failing and making poor choices. We believe, for a period of time, that we should look at addiction in the same way we look at chronic diseases like cancer or heart problems. If this is the case, then why are those people suffering from such illness not shamed in the same way as someone struggling with addiction is? Why isn’t there a stigma to those diseases like there is around addiction? Of course, this is because addiction is a lot more complicated and it does not only affect the body but it can clearly create an impact on a person’s spirit and soul. 

Being addicted is actually “feeding” the addiction itself. It requires preoccupation on how to get drugs or alcohol as well as other substances that they consume to “feed” such addiction. Addiction is often accompanied by irresponsible behavior as well as deceitfulness that often becomes the subject of most family issues and tolls on relationships. Even work is affected because an addict cannot function normally unless their fix is met. Oftentimes, it is easier to blame the addict about their lying, stealing, cheating or anger rather than pinpointing the real problem and that is addiction is a disease. Addicts are not proud of what they have done but are often shunned by their own family, friends and society make the situation worse. This often results in self-blame and shame to the addict.

There are Changes in the Brain

Addicts were born with lacking dopamine receptors in their brains. This means that these people become addicted to substances because they are not able to experience pleasure naturally and so they search it other less natural ways like drug or alcohol intake. The more  drugs and alcohol a person takes, the more altered their brain’s chemical makeup becomes. For instance, the prefontal cortex, which is responsible for a person’s rational behavior, shrinks once they become intoxicated with drugs and alcohol. And so, addicts have no choice but to keep on drinking, snorting, injecting or doing whatever it takes to consume the substance they are addicted to. Thus resulting in irrational and other disturbing behaviors. It is also why many people who are dealing with mental health issues use drugs and alcohol.

Addiction is a Disease, Not Free Will

We define ‘free will’ as the human ability to make choices that are not externally determined. That being said, addicts are people who do not have the same kind of ability, to make normal choices, as their genetic makeup and brain have been altered in such a way that it does not function normally. Therefore, we can say that addiction is a disease. However, an addict or someone who suffers from addiction does have a choice between getting well or keep drowning in addictive substances. 

Recovering from addiction is a choice, in fact, it is a good choice to do so. Although it is not easy, it is still possible with the right treatment/process. Recovery requires commitment and just like addiction, you have to repeat your healthy choices over and over again. 

Final Thoughts

Being addicted to drugs or alcohol is a hard battle to win. It’s even harder when you find yourself sober for a while then relapse back into the same addictive habits all over again. It’s not only tough on the addicted person but tougher to those who love them. However, we all have a choice, even if you are an addict. You have the choice of whether or not to destroy your life and the lives of the people around you or choose to live sober. 

Getting help and recovering from addiction is not an easy road to take but if it means that you can live longer and make your family or friends happy, you should choose that option. Excessive alcohol consumption destroys your body and drug addiction ruins your life, so before you are entirely destroyed by it, seek out the help that you need. It’s never too late to recover. Speak life instead of destroying it, make the better choice. After all, it’s not too late to make the right decision for yourself!