Drug Addiction: The Choice No One Makes

Addiction and choice is a controversial topic in our society today. Many will look at addicts and the destruction they have made of their lives and relationships, the crimes they have perpetrated, and ask, “Why don’t they just stop? Why do they keep picking up the needle or the pipe or the joint? Can’t they see this for what it is? Don’t they care?”

But addicts have a different take. While some have no interest in quitting, others would do anything to be able to kick the habit for good. So, why can’t they do it? Where’s the willpower?

The 12-step program offers some answers. There we learn that addiction is not a choice the addict makes. We learn that, in fact, the addict has lost the power of choice – that in the face of addiction there is no option but to use again. Willpower is no defense against such a powerful foe.

As drug use progresses to abuse, the mind and the body are transforming in such a way that “drug of choice” isn’t simply a want; it is a need. A compulsion of the body and an obsession of the mind, whatever may have been left of the addict’s rational thinking capabilities are overtaken by this powerful and undying urge.

Non-addicts struggle to understand why drug addiction is not a choice. To them, it seems simple. They avoid drugs and probably don’t think anything of it. They aren’t even tempted. But for the one who has used – who has experienced the alluring high of drugs or alcohol and found that somehow this substance promised to provide a comfort in their weary lives – “temptation” is putting it mildly. The addiction comes to dominate their lives.

But many addicts refuse to admit that their addiction is beyond their control, that they no longer have the privilege of choosing a better, smarter, saner way. They fight, they battle, they try, they swear off, but the drug has become their master and it will have its way. In the face of failure, addicts can’t help but feel shame and guilt because of their addiction. They believe this is something they should be able to overcome. Many don’t realize that the power of choice is long gone.

Fighting alcoholism or drugs, for the one who is truly an addict, is a losing battle from the start. So does this mean there is no hope? Yes and no. The addict, in and of him or herself, is hopeless against the addiction. There is no defeating the disease on one’s own unaided strength. Relapse is the certain result.

But that doesn’t mean there is no hope. What we find in the 12 Steps is that the key to finding hope is admitting our own hopelessness; the key to finding power is to admit we have none at all. This is the one choice that the addict can make: to admit powerlessness and total defeat.

To many, this will seem like giving up or giving in. And that’s the point. Admitting honestly and humbly that we can’t do it makes space for the One who can. This is work that no human can do and so we look to God as our rescuer. Our admission that we need rescuing, that we are utterly shipwrecked, is the plea that welcomes Him in.