I understand that addiction/alcoholism is a brain disease, but that doesn’t let my beloved addict off the hook or give him excuses like, “I can’t help it! I’ve got a disease.” And it doesn’t give me an out either. If I think, “He can’t help it! He’s got a disease,” then I am giving him a Get Out of Jail Free card. I am giving him a reason to keep abusing drugs or alcohol. I am enabling his self-destruction, pure and simple.
Yes, my child has a disease, one that he needs to manage as he would diabetes or cancer or heart disease. Here are the rules of the game for those with impaired hearts or bad pancreases or chemically-dependent brains: keep away from the things that are bad for you. Avoid sugar or fatty meat or – for the chemically dependent – any mood altering substance. Pot, crack, alcohol, pain pills; these are all the same to the diseased addict/alcoholic brain. Addicted to one means addicted to all.
As an aside: I know many parents think, “It’s just pot! How bad can that be?” I was one of those naïve parents. I didn’t know that pot had eight times the THC as in years gone by, or that it was causing psychosis among some users. I didn’t know there were more kids in rehab for pot than for all other drugs combined. And today’s national landscape makes the picture even murkier: if pot is so dangerous, why is it being legally sold around the country? That’s a mixed and confusing message for teens and adults alike.
My personal mantra for parental recovery is, “Give your beloved addicts a reason to change.” The flip side to that is, “Don’t give them an excuse to use.” Don’t let them play the disease card. Hold them accountable for the choices they make. We can’t stop them from putting their hand to their mouth or a needle in their arm. But we can stop making up excuses for them.