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Smoking, Drinking and Drugs: Habit, Disease, Addiction, or Choice?

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The excessive use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs have been too easily labeled, giving users an excuse to overindulge. When it comes to these labels I become a bit cynical, especially, when one is labeled a disease.

Before one jumps to the defense of alcoholics who have a “disease,” and drug-users who have an “addiction,” let’s talk about smoking, drinking, drugs and choosing.

Yes, I smoke, and I “choose” to light those cigarettes. It’s no longer something I enjoy; it’s become a habit. I’m in the process of trying to quit this nasty “habit”. No, I do not drink, because I choose not to, and I do not use drugs, because I choose not to.

In my opinion, smoking is a choice — so is drinking and drug-using. However, smoking is labeled as a “habit” and drinking is most often labeled as a “disease,” and drug-using is labeled as an “addiction.” I believe all are choices! All can become habits! And all can become addictive.

If one never picks up a cigarette and smokes, he or she has made a choice. If someone continues to smoke, that is his or her choice. The same holds true with alcohol and drugs. If one chooses never to begin use, one will not obtain a habit or addiction.

The habit begins when one abuses and becomes dependent on the substance, whether it is nicotine, alcohol, or drugs. Drug-users are labeled as addicts and are said to have an addiction. Yet, those who drink heavily are labeled as alcoholics and they are given an “excuse” because they supposedly have this “disease” called “alcoholism,” which is also an addiction. Why then is heavy use of tobacco not labeled as a “disease” and heavy smokers not labeled as “smokaholics”? Why is the excessive use of drugs not labeled as a disease? What about the words workaholics or shopaholics? These are not diseases, either. They, as smoking, drinking, and drug-using, are compulsive needs that can be dealt with by choosing not to partake.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) has this article on its website. Here, my argument about the labels of “habit” and “disease” are substantiated with the first sentence. “The cost and consequences of alcoholism and drug-dependence place an enormous burden on American society.”

The key word here is ‘dependence’. Again, to become dependent on something is by choice. You either choose to use or choose not to use. The second sentence, “Substance abuse crosses all societal boundaries, …” confirms my belief of choice. The key words here are ‘substance abuse’. Again, you either choose to use or choose not to use and abuse.

I’m sure many reading this will have their own opinions, objections, and arguments concerning my choice of words.

Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. This is mine: Smoking, drinking, and drug-using are habits. If you choose to allow yourself to become dependent on the substance it becomes a habit. Even those who attend Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) know each day they “choose” to not drink. Drinking is a choice they live with and fight against each day—Having Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups available to help them choose is an added advantage to help fight a habit they have the choice to begin or end.

There is a major exception in my opinion. That exception is when infants are born dependent on alcohol or drugs because they had no choice; their parent made that choice for them by using while pregnant.

I admitted I choose to smoke and I admit it is a bad habit. It’s a habit that is hard to break. But I’ll be the first to admit that smoking is not a disease. It is a choice — so is the use of alcohol and/or drugs.

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About Joanne D. Kiggins

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/THESAVAGEQUIETSEPTEMBERSUN/ Victor Lana

    Nicely said, Joanne. And “addiction” does not limit itself to drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Take “fast food” if you will. There are people totally addicted to this unhealthy diet. Imagine french fries seven days a week? That’s being addicted for sure. Deep fried burgers? Sugary colas? Onion rings?

    “Addiction” can be linked to something, anything that overdoing leads to harmful consequences (think sex). There are addicts of all kinds and the thought process must be to help them (not by calling it a disease by still understanding its nature).

    By the way, I had my own addiction: coffee. I started having two cups a day. This progressed to three, four, five…eventually I realized I was drinking a whole pot (maybe more). One day I was sitting at my desk and felt myself shaking and my heart palpitating and I knew what it was.

    Yes, it was my choice to drink so much coffee, but I knew I was in bad shape with it. I’d get to work and start looking for my cup nervously if I didn’t see it. Yeah, that’s addiction.

    So, what did I do? I quit it cold turkey and I don’t miss it, though the smell when it’s brewing can still get to me.

    I think some people by nature are more prone to addiction and may need more help, thus the concept of “disease” enters the picture. In the end, whatever helps them quit should be acceptable.

    Nice post to bring awareness about the nature of addiction and the choices we make in regard to it.

  • http://www.mondoirlando.com Aaron, Duke De Mondo

    Joanne, well argued piece here, but one i have some trouble with, as you predicted up yonder. You’re right that there is choice involved, but at some point, in so far as addicts are concerned, the choice is non-existent. No-one chooses to be alcoholic, for example, it occurs from a result of choices made earlier, yes, but a practising addict of whatever substance has long since lost any hint of “choice”.
    There is maybe even some choice when it comes to the first drink a the day, or the first smoke, or the first snort, but followin that, the choice is lost. not everyone who folows the first wi the second third an eleventh does so out of choice. there’s a hella lotta physical an mental an biological workings that dictate said form of action. enough time away from it wi the right people an the right words, an choice no doubt comes back into it. i can choose to head down yonder path again, or i can choose not to. but the idea that someone in the grip of it has anythin like what we would call “choice” is fairly close to wrong, i’d suggest. It fails to take into account the mental illness of the addiction, and the major difference between smoking an alcohol or, say, crack dependancy, is that smoking doesn’t result in a violent shift in personality. it may produce a noticeable calm, but it’s far from the deplorable states an alcoholic will be found in the far side o’ a dozen vodkas.
    The mental states, these insufferable bouts a depression an self-loathin an guilt, they tend to null whatever real choice in the matter an addict may have.

  • http://writeafterdarkblogs.blogspot.com/ Joanne D. Kiggins

    Thank you for commenting, Victor. Yes, you are correct. There are far more things one can choose or allow themselves to become addicted to. Fast food and coffee are great examples. 😉

  • http://writeafterdarkblogs.blogspot.com/ Joanne D. Kiggins

    Aaron, thank you for commenting.

    I understand what you’re suggesting when you say, “but the idea that someone in the grip of it has anythin like what we would call “choice” is fairly close to wrong, i’d suggest. It fails to take into account the mental illness of the addiction, and the major difference between smoking an alcohol or, say, crack dependancy, is that smoking doesn’t result in a violent shift in personality. it may produce a noticeable calm, but it’s far from the deplorable states an alcoholic will be found in the far side o’ a dozen vodkas.

    The mental states, these insufferable bouts a depression an self-loathin an guilt, they tend to null whatever real choice in the matter an addict may have.”

    But, I believe your theory that the choice becomes null and void because we should “take into account the mental illness of the ‘addiction’,” becomes part of my reasoning and is used simply as an excuse after the addiction begins. I still believe that if one had “chosen” not to begin use of whatever “became the addiction,” he or she therefore would not be addicted.

    Your words “practicing addict” also confirms my reasoning.

    It still comes down to the choice not to use so it doesn’t become an addiction and part of ones mental state. And one does have the choice before he or she begins use.

  • KYS

    Joanne,

    I understand the point that all substance use, abuse and addiction starts with choice, but your post ignores the fact that drug dependence is pathology- not just a state of mind. Trust me, nobody chooses to be addicted to anything. But if addiction was simply “a bad habit” there would be no “withdrawal.” There IS something more going on here once use becomes addiction. If you look for it, you’ll find tons of literature to support this.

    Unless we drop the stigma attached to substance abuse (ie- drug addicts are lazy and lack self-discipline), we cannot treat it effectively.

    Check out the National Institute of Health’s page on addiction here

  • KYS

    Thats the NIDA, not NIH. Sorry!

  • RogerMDillon

    What you say sounds well enough, but without any science to back your findings your opinion is nothing more than that.

    Obviously, the first time someone tries something it is there choice, but drugs, alcohol or whatever you choose to put into your system alters your system.

    Think about the food you think tastes the best. Did you choose for it to taste so good or could it be that there was something else going on between your body and the food that made you come to that conclusion? How would you explain why others might not think that item tastes as good as you?

    If it is all a choice, why don’t you choose to quit your habit, one you don’t even enjoy? You either quit or you don’t. Trying is you fighting with your body’s need for it. You are obviously addicted to nicotine and are rationalizing your actions by saying you still choose to smoke.

    And as a great man from the Great White North once said, “if you choose not to choose/you still have made a choice”.

  • http://writeafterdarkblogs.blogspot.com/ Joanne D. Kiggins

    KYS,
    First let me state that I am not attaching a stigma that addicts of any kind are lazy or lack self-discipline. And I did not ignore the effects of the abuse. I believe I stated that nicotine, alcohol, and drugs can become an addiction.

    My opinion piece is based on the fact that I believe it is a “choice” to “begin use” or “not to begin use.” The “choice” is prior to usage and possibility of addiction. I do believe that once one continues use for a long period of time, one can become addicted with any substance. And yes, at that point, your pathology (the branch of medical science that studies the causes of nature and effects of diseases) statement could come into play.
    I am familiar with the National Institute on Drug Abuse. I’m also familiar Alcoholics Anonymous and Nicotine Anonymous. I’ve referred to their sites in several of my articles.

    Point still being, pathology, addiction, disease are all after the fact of initial use. And I still believe that, even I, as a smoker, had the “choice” to light up or not to light up. I’ll agree that when I first lit a cigarette, I didn’t plan to become dependant on nicotine. Had I never smoked that first cigarette and continued to smoke after that first cigarette, I would not have a nasty habit, addiction to nicotine, or the possibility of the diseases or effects that may result from abusing nicotine. It was still my “choice” to use the very first time. Do I consider myself lazy? No. Do I lack self-discipline? No. Can I quit smoking? Yes, when I decide to quit, I will. In the meantime, I’ll be the first to admit I use excuses why I continue to smoke. But the fact is, “if” I choose to quit, I know I can. Fact is, had I never lit up that first cigarette and continued to use, and allow my body to become addicted, I wouldn’t need to worry about it, would I?

    In my opinion, those who abuse alcohol and drugs have placed themselves at the same risk by their initial use. In the beginning, it was still a choice.

  • KYS

    Well, if you’re now saying that if one never tries drugs one can never be addicted, I agree. Nothing new there.

    However, when you say:

    “What about the words workaholics or shopaholics? These are not diseases, either. They, as smoking, drinking, and drug-using, are compulsive needs that can be dealt with by choosing not to partake.”

    It sounds like you are calling addiction a simple habit, just social or behavioral issue, which is incorrect and unfair. That’s my problem with your post.

    When you decide to quit smoking, good luck. I know that pain!

  • http://writeafterdarkblogs.blogspot.com/ Joanne D. Kiggins

    Roger,
    That’s why it’s called an “opinion.”
    Opinion: A personal belief or judgment that is not founded on proof or certainty.

    If you read my opinion piece, you will see that my reference to “choice” refers to the initial use of substance prior to it having the ability to alter one’s system. And yes, I admitted I do smoke; it has become a nicotine addiction; and when I “choose” to quit, I will. Therefore, having admitted that I do smoke, my opinion is based on my belief that had I chose not to smoke initially, I would not be addicted to nicotine. It also shows that I’m not basing my opinion without having some knowledge as to initial choice and that choice leading to addiction. As a writer, my opinion would not be worth writing had I written about something I know nothing about. In that case, I might agree with you.

    I’ll reiterate my response to KYS. “In the meantime, I’ll be the first to admit I use excuses to myself why I continue to smoke. But the fact is, “if” I choose to quit, I know I can. Fact is, had I never lit up that first cigarette and continued to use, and allow my body to become addicted, I wouldn’t need to worry about it, would I?

    In my opinion, those who abuse alcohol and drugs have placed themselves at the same risk by their “initial” use. In the beginning, it was still a choice. And yes, since I made that initial choice, I do need to make another. 😉 I will say that I believe my quitting smoking, in my opinion, will probably be much easier than those who may try to quit their use of alcohol or drugs.

    Rationalizing my continued use, I don’t think so. Knowing that I had the choice to smoke or not smoke in the beginning, allows me to make the decision that I need to make the choice to quit. Never did I say quitting was easy for anyone with any addiction. 😉 I don’t feel sorry for myself. I got myself into this habit/addiction by the initial choice I made, and I will get myself out of it.

  • http://writeafterdarkblogs.blogspot.com/ Joanne D. Kiggins

    KYS,
    [quote] Well, if you’re now saying that if one never tries drugs one can never be addicted, I agree. Nothing new there.[/quote]

    My opinion never swayed from this statement, “If one chooses never to begin use, one will not obtain a habit or addiction.”

    If you reread my post you’ll find that my reference to workaholics and shopaholics was arguing the use of labels.

    Thanks for the encouragement. I appreciate it.

  • Kristine

    i really enjoyed your article.

  • Kristine Nielsen

    I loved this article. My father was an alcoholic and i hated it when everyone would use “disease” as an excuse for his stupidity. I personally think that it is a choice, like you, and that people should stop making excuses for all of THEIR imperfections and mistakes. I was glad to see that someone felt the same way.

  • http://www.cdbaby.com/X-15 Douglas Mays

    Addiction, a choice? Not that simple.

    Addiction is merely a sympton of something buried deep inside the mind and soul of an individual.

    My x, an addict of a major smokeable rock. I identified the reason for usage. When I removed the sources of pain from her life (certain relatives and so-called non-addicted friends), her usage stopped, hands down!

    One can be all 12 steppy and shit like that. Remove the substance of addiction, but the problem remains.

    So, for the most part, substance abuse therapy is a joke nowadays. It hasn’t really changed since 1937, when Bill W and his band of drunken womanizers came up with AA. Then AA got into the court systems. Really went downhill from there.

    What is the current success rate, about 17% or so? That is terrible. I am amazed that the revolving money machine of rehab has refused to step out of the dark hole of antiquated methods of recovery.

    God, I could go on railing about this subject. I think Medicare in the USA could do something about that since right now alot of Medicare is paying for antiquated rehab methods with such a huge failure rate. A revolving door.

    peaceloveguidance

  • Joanne D. Kiggins

    Thank you, Christine.

  • Joanne D. Kiggins

    Thanks for reading, Kristine. Very true. People should own up to their mistakes.

  • Joanne D. Kiggins

    Douglas,
    Sorry for your dealings with your ex, and I’m happy you solved the problem by defining her reason for usage.

    I’m still a firm believer that it is a “choice” to “begin use” or “not to begin use.” The “choice” should be made prior to usage and possibility of addiction.

    I believe you’re right that one can remove the substance, but the problem of need can still remain. Again, if one never uses to learn that need, he wouldn’t be addicted.

    Good points on the revolving doors of this society and the low percentage of recovery rates.

    Thanks for reading, Douglas.

  • Book

    This book insulted my intelligence, so I have to tell someone or I will go crazy.

    First of all, the author contradicts himself.He says something like, Everyone knows that marijuana and LSD are not addictive. Later in the book, he is attempting to prove his point that environmental pressures cause people to engage in addictive behavior. He describes a case in which a girl was “addicted” to marijuana or LSD (I forget which one, as I read the book last year and was only recently reminded of it by some government propaganda I saw today). She moves to a new environment and is no longer addicted. Thus, it was the environment that caused her addiction.

    Well, if the drug was never addictive in the first place, you can’t use this as a point to support your theory.

    What is more, he undermines his credibility by excessive mudslinging, particularly when he calls AA a cult.

    Besides blatant errors of logic and judgment, the book is unpleasant to read because Schaler creates a hostile atmosphere for the reader. He uses imagery that is both vulgar and faulty, for example, when he says that addiction is not a disease like diarrhea because addicts can control their behavior whereas people with diarrhea cannot. (When in fact, many people can control their diarrhea by excluding certain foods from their diets.) While such a comment is fine on South Park, it doesn’t belong in a persuasive essay/book.

    Furthermore, his idea is very black-and-white, whereas there are probably shades of gray involved. Just because addicts can make rational choices to stop using a drug, doesn’t mean that the drug itself is not addictive.

    There are people (like me) who are more compulsive than others. To them, it may be harder to quit a habit. Genetics or hormones or birth-order, I know it for fact that I have a more addictive personality than most people. I have a lot of OCD traits, which have been expressed throughout my life in many different ways, in the forms of various addictions such as hypochondria.

    Then he right-out states that drugs have no chemically-addictive properties. Maybe not, if I hypothetically buy into his conspiracy-theory. But I know that there are chemical reasons for many compulsions, not just drugs. For example, overreating. If you eat certain foods such as carbohydrates, all the time, you are more likely to be hungry becuase blood-sugar levels spike and then drop dramatically. While this is probably not the sole reason people overeat, it illustrates how chemicals can have an effect on the body that may lead to compulsion. The problem is not solely psychological, but physiological as well. So he can say that drugs are not physiologically addictive, but he can’t apply the same blanket-statement to all addictions. And what is more, I am sure that OCD is partly physiological, becuase it is related to anxiety, which is caused by bodily chemicals.

    Lastly, I am shocked that Schaler uses the same type of propaganda tactics (mudslinging, irrational rhetoric, black-and-white/cut-and-dry logic) that are visible throughout mainstream media. While doing this, Schaler states that the mainstream media has been lying to us.

    In conclusion, if you are out to disprove a popular theory, don’t make yourself sound irrational. If you are going to write a book about why drugs such as crack are not addictive, it is wise not to make yourself sound like a crackhead, because although this means you have had experience on the issue, you’ll still come off as illogical and biased.

  • Joanne D. Kiggins

    Book,
    While I appreciate your review of the Schaler book, I much rather would have had a comment from you on my “opinion” piece. The books referenced are only that: References relating to the subject of the article/opinion itself, they are not listed to endorse or help prove or disprove an opinion.

  • http://Ladybug Hope

    Let me say, everything is a choice. I have given up on my own, cigarettes and alcohol now for 4 years. Calling a person an alcoholic and to say they have a disease, only gives the individual an excuse when they drink; that it is ok, so I relapsed–I have a disease, I cannot help it. Bull, It is not a disease, it is just a poor choice the individual made to drink, and they get away with it because they can say they have a “disease”. You either choose to drink, smoke, snort, eat, shop, or whatever you choose to do by your own actions, not because you are diseased. Cancer is a disease, not something you can give up if you choose to (think about that). This is only my opinion, but I choose to believe in myself instead of outside sources or groups. I can do or not do anything I choose to do in this life and not blame it on someone or something else. You need to change your thinking if you keep repeating behaviors you find becoming habits that can eventually lead to addictions if not careful. It is all up to the individual, and to change their individual thinking, that will lead to a more positive life. Again, I am not a doctor or therapist, but I am only an individual sharing an opinion and my success by choice.

  • Nancy

    All of it is a choice, and yet at some point in each individual the choice crosses a line to become a chemical dependency, as the chemicals that stimulate or simulate pleasure centers in the brain go from being intermittant & voluntary to compulsion.

    With both drugs and alcohol, there is considerable proof that when SOME (not all) people ingest these drugs, the brain will produce an additional chemical, THIQ, which actually creates & fosters addictions. For example, when a ‘normal’ person drinks, their brain breaks down alcohol into acetic acid & water. The alcoholic’s brain, on the other hand, invariably produces acetic acid, water, & THIQ – tetrahyroioquinidine, I believe is what it stands for.

    There is also the recently revealed fact that the cigarette companies are well aware of the addictive nature of nicotine, and deliberately have been increasing the amounts of ADDED nicotine to cigarettes, thereby causing them to deliberately be even more addictive than in the past. So someone sure knows that smoking isn’t entirely a matter of choice, enough to put money on it by adding it to the product. Corporations don’t do that unless they’ve glommed on to a sure thing.

    Yes, picking up a cigarette or a drug to begin with is stupid. If you don’t need it for medical purposes, which is bad enough, you shouldn’t mess with it. I was lucky: I escaped smoking, drinking, and drugs, and thru recent weight loss stomach surgery, I’ve managed to ditch food addiction too (they removed most of my stomach, so I don’t have much choice any more; but it DID end my food addiction). It starts out as a choice, but it’s too easy for it to change to something far more sinister.

  • Joanne D. Kiggins

    Hope,
    Thanks for reading and sharing your experience and agreeing with my opinion that it is a choice.
    I’m happy you succeeded and continue to do well.

  • Joanne D. Kiggins

    Nancy,
    Thank you for reading. Yes, it does begin as a choice and I agree that it may be easy to change into an addition. That’s why it’s best to make the right choice to begin with. Say “no.”

  • http://Ladybug Hope

    Nancy,

    Thanks for your insight and comments. I believe it still remains the fact that it all starts with the choice of the individual. I was a very heavy compulsive drinker/smoker and I just decided I did not want to live the rest of my life doing just that. Others may enjoy living in a box and that is great for them, that is there choice. The problem I have, is when the actions of individuals choose gets them into trouble, they use the excuse of addiction to make things right, and that is just wrong. If I could stop drinking and smoking on my own, anyone can, they just have to want to. If they are really not wanting to and forced into treatment, it will not be given up. The system is taking the wrong approach and robbing people of their money for rehabs and so on. If the individual want to stop they will, if not, they will continue to live the way they choose to–it is that simple. It upsets me to hear all of the excuses people come up with to rectify their wrongdoing. No individual can tell any individual what is right and wrong in his/her life–ONLY the individual knows how they choose to live, and really it is noone elses business. If they choose to drink, smoke, shop, eat, etc. to excess and die, well then they can only blame themselves, because the individual chose that. Again, these are only opinions, but I stand firm on choices in life and if you choose a path you later regret–try another path until you find the one that is right for you. But it has nothing to do with disease unless the individual chooses it to be.

  • http://Ladybug Hope

    To anyone who is interested, I have an excellent article you may want to read… below is the link, please enjoy this article, I found it very enlightening.

  • Cat

    Shopaholics, Addicts, Workaholics are ALL considered to have the disease.
    I think this shows you did not do any research at all. It must’ve been very skimp.

    Alcoholism is a disease, so is addiction. All Addiction (to alcohol, work, drugs) is a disease. Your terms are all wrong.

    I don’t buy into it being a disease BUT they consider all addictions to be so.
    So yes, people who are addicted to nicotine have the disease of addiction. You would be considered diseased to them, don’t worry, they didn’t leave you out.

  • JI JI

    SMOKING CAN KILL YOU AND SMOKING CAN TURN YOUR PINK LUNGS INTO BLACK LUNGS.SMOKING CAN GIVE YOU A DIEASEASE AND GIVE YOU CANCER AND MAKE YOU VERY VEY VERY VERY SICK.

  • benny

    he

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