According to the Center On Addiction, addiction is a “complex disease of the brain and body that involves compulsive use of one or more substances despite serious health and social consequences. Addiction disrupts regions of the brain that are responsible for reward, motivation, learning, judgment and memory. It damages various body systems as well as families, relationships, schools, workplaces and neighborhoods.”
Mental health issues are increasing in societal discussions, and stigmas about mental illness are beginning to be broken down. However, there is a downside to this. What inevitably balances out progress in certain areas is the surfacing of the watering down of the true severity of clinical diagnosis. For example, how many times have you overheard someone say “it’s just my OCD kicking in,” because someone happens to prefer a certain aspect of their life to be organized? Organization and tidiness are not the same as determining if your safety today is dependent solely upon whether or not you see nine red umbrellas on your commute to work this morning.
The point here is that we often let ourselves off the hook for our unattractive behavioral choices by bemoaning that some clinical diagnosis is the cause, and therefore it’s not our fault. Think about this for a moment because there’s both good and bad here. The good is that conversations about mental illness – true mental illness – is now part of our conversational fabric, as it should be! The bad is that it’s now also used as a scapegoat. It all boils down to what’s socially acceptable. Until quite recently, admitting you went to therapy or took medication was seen as an admission that there’s something wrong with you, when every weekend (and weeknight) bars are filled with people escaping their pain through vice instead of self-reflection. Why? Because it’s socially acceptable. It’s attractive to do so. Let’s break this down. “I had a tough week, so I’m going to drink to forget about it, and hope it never happens again, even though deep down I know it will, because I’m not actually trying to change, because I’m surround by people that are experiencing something similiar, and we validate each other, and so it’s easier for us all to blame others anyway for why I feel this way” has long been seen as a better solution than “I had a tough week – I don’t like feeling this way – I want to gain some insights as to why I feel this way, so I can build some healthy strategies to cope when similar situations arise.”
Alcohol and drugs are the umbrella vices, but food, technology and other more seemingly innocuous vices that can be equally damaging. The crucial element here is choice. Addiction is when we’ve lost control of our reasoned choice. This is severe. This is diagnostic and there are criteria associated with this on the clinical level. If this is you, please seek help and don’t go it alone. However, that’s not the point of this post. The point this post is for those of us using clinical language as an excuse for believing we are not in control of our choices. When we knowingly and actively choose to react poorly to a given situational stressor, and try to shirk responsibility by noting some clinical reason for our inability to momentarily maintain self-control. Breaking bad behavioral habits is not easy, and excuses are the paraphernalia or poor choices. When self-deception, “the action or practice of allowing oneself to believe that a false or unvalidated feeling, idea, or situation is true,” is the real diagnosis, the only cure is acceptance. Acceptance holds space for reflection, which in turn creates opportunity for right action.