Addiction is Not A Choice And Here’s Why

The addict wakes up in the morning and reaches for his phone to shut off the alarm. 7 am. Time to wake up and get ready. But first he has to find something to eat and get his fix for the day. Without a hit of the good stuff he won’t be able to function and he knows it. He wanders into the next room, where five other addicts are already getting their fix. He hopes there’s enough left. He looks into the drawer and fishes around for a spoon. He’ll need it if he wants to do this properly. Then he stumbles over to the counter, groggily, his stomach starting to hurt from withdrawals that are already creeping in. He knows it’s bad to continue using, but he can’t help it. He knows there are other, healthier options for him, options that won’t impact his health as much, but he sees the product right in front of him, so easy to attain, and his mind tells him, “yes, that!”. He doesn’t know when it began. He may have been born with the addiction. All he knows is, someone handed it to him one day and told him he should try it, so he did. And he loved it. He couldn’t get enough and he craved more. And then he wanted it more frequently, so he made it part of his daily routine. Sometime he switches the product up, just to stay up with the trends.

He reaches into the cabinet and takes it down. Then he gets out a bowl and begins to measure it out. Now that he’s ready to do this, he takes everything to the table and sits down. He’s ready to get this over with so he can feel better and get on with his day.

Right now you’re probably thinking, “What drug is he using? Heroin, Rx drugs, crack? Which one uses a spoon, and why did he put it in a bowl?” Well, he’s not using a drug. He’s addicted to sugar.

He’s ready to eat his sugary cereal and get the hit he’s been looking for. The sugary breakfast will wake him up and help him stay focused through the first few class periods, until he starts to get hangry around noon. At lunch time, he’ll fill his tray with healthy choices and grab a cookie because it looks good. This will keep him satiated until after dinner time, when he realizes he’s hungry again and begins hunting for dessert. Instead of the apple sitting on the counter, he opts for ice cream because “he’s had a hard day and deserves it”. Every day he chastises himself for not eating healthier.

At 19, he knows the dangers associated with eating large amounts of processed sugars, but they taste so good. He’s addicted to sugar and can’t figure out how to stop.

Can you relate to this? What if you swap out sugar for caffeine? Then can you relate?

Normally when we think of addicts, we think of someone who abuses drugs. The problem with this is that it’s difficult for others to relate to and therefore easy to dislike that person. It’s easy to hate on someone who abuses drugs because we’re told as children to “just say no” and that drugs are bad. That person made that decision to become an addict so they deserve to be viewed as less than, right?

Well, what if I explained addiction using a product almost all of us in the United States are addicted to: sugar.

At what age did you become addicted to sugar or caffeine? Did you choose that for yourself or were you looking for a temporary solution to a problem at the time? Maybe you were tired in the mornings and needed a pick me up so you stopped by Starbucks one day. That coffee tasted pretty good, so you stopped the next day and the next day. When you decide that you don’t want to drink coffee anymore and try to stop, you start to get caffeine headaches. So you grab another coffee to make it go away. And who really knows when we become addicted to sugar?

Sweets and processed foods are so ingrained in our culture it would be nearly impossible to determine. But I dare you to try going one week without eating anything with processed sugar in it. I know I can’t do it. I see a cookie or some ice cream and my mouth starts to water. I crave that sugary goodness because it’s so delicious and releases all sorts of pleasure signals in my brain when I eat it. Do I know it’s not exactly healthy for me when I eat a cookie? Absolutely. Do I do it anyway because it’s delicious? Absolutely.

According to, addiction is defined as a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive (insert substance or activity here like drugs, gambling, caffeine) seeking and use, despite harmful consequences.

So by this definition can you be addicted to sugar? Absolutely. If you crave something sugary, you’re going to go out of your way to get something sugary. Whether that’s walking into the kitchen to see what you have or driving all the way to the grocery store for cookie dough, we’ve all been there. And are there harmful consequences to eating sugar? Duh! Excessive weight gain, diabetes and heart disease are just a few of the negative consequences. I should note that unlike drugs, sugar and caffeine are okay when consumed in moderation.

So what’s the point of all this? The point is to prove that an addiction is not just something you choose to have.

Having a journalism background, I find it interesting the way in which we use the word addiction. If you’re like me, you throw the word addiction around casually to mean you’re obsessed, in a good way, with something. “I’m addicted to Game of Thrones” or “I’m addicted to this new perfume I found”. And while these examples do not fall into the clinical definition of addiction, the point is that, when we view ourselves as having an addiction, we don’t normally talk about it as a bad thing. Society encourages us to talk to in hyperbole, and being addicted to something is the ultimate sign of obsession. We view addictions as a choice because that’s how we speak about them in our day to day lives.

But when we refer to someone else as having an addiction, it’s almost always viewed negatively. “That person is an addict” or “Their addiction to Mountain Dew is destroying them.” When you start to understand that having an addiction is not a choice, you’ll begin to understand that these are people with a serious mental health issue that need help.

Only then, can we start to tackle the opioid crisis.

Photo: nicole dee |




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