Why We Need to Stop Comparing Addiction to Cancer

First, I think we need to acknowledge there is a difference between drug use and drug abuse. Some people can use substances recreationally, not everyone can. People are hardwired differently. I don’t know why some people don’t have an issue with having one glass of wine at dinner, while others struggle.

I’ve been noticing the growing argument for “addiction is not a disease” along with some form of an analogy about a kid with cancer. “That five-year-old didn’t ask for cancer”. Ok, I get it. I do.

And I think it’s a poor comparison.

Whichever side of the disease vs willpower side of the controversy you’re on, please know that addicts don’t choose to be addicts either. I understand no one “held a gun to a drug users head and made them inject drugs”. On the other hand, do you understand that when you’re cancer free, you don’t have to work every day to stay cancer free. You don’t have the temptations surrounding you or when the stress builds up or a family member dies and you need that relief, you don’t think “man, I could really use some cancer right now”.

I once heard someone say that if there was a cure for cancer half way around the world, nothing would stop that person from getting their treatment but if there was a pill that could cure depression sitting on the table across from someone who is depressed, they might not be able to get up off the couch to get it.

Depression is a chemical thing. Addiction is a chemical thing. How terrible is it that the affliction some people deal with destroys the mind to logic out? It doesn’t seem like a matter of willpower to me. It’s more believable to me that there’s a glitch in the brain.

Comparing addiction to cancer doesn’t make any sense. They are not the same thing.

It’d be a little easier to compare it with diabetes. Type two diabetes can be passed on genetically or a person can live a lifestyle that leads to diabetes. That person wasn’t asking to get sick. Sometimes it’s possible to make lifestyle changes that will help get blood sugars under control but that person has to be very aware of everything they put in their body.

I know firsthand what it’s like to have unmanaged blood sugars. I have made many changes and in turn, my sugars are lower and I am getting healthier. I also know how difficult it is to maintain those changes. Sometimes I just want handfuls of chocolate. Or cheesecake. Or pasta. Sometimes I indulge. A lot of times I don’t.

Addiction runs rampant in my family and I lost a sister to a lethal mix of rx drugs and heroin. Four days before she died, we had an intervention for her. She looked into our eyes and told us she was done. She wanted to be clean (and had recently celebrated 9 months of sobriety before this last relapse). She knew her lifestyle could kill her. She did it anyway. I don’t believe it was simply a matter of willpower. It’s not right to think that had someone stayed with her that night, everything would’ve been ok. She needed 24- hour supervision. Sometimes it’s not a “day at a time” it’s a minute or a second at a time. Do you think anyone in their “right” or healthy mind would conspire and lie to loved ones just to be able to essentially kill themselves?

Addiction at the very least is powerful, can we all agree on that? It’s killing people and it needs to stop.

Can we stop comparing it to cancer? Trying to claim there are no “victims of addiction”? I’ve never done heroin and it’s ruined my life. Because the bottom line is, blaming people doesn’t help anything.

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