Addiction – A Deadly Disease?



Addiction – A Deadly Disease?

This is a question I have asked myself recently, twice during the course of 24 hours. First after watching the video I’ve embedded, and then shortly after a situation affecting my wife’s family.

Her uncle went missing, the last time he had been seen he was fishing in a nearby pond. His tuk-tuk was found beside the pond with the keys left in the ignition. By midnight a large number of the local community had gathered around the pond to stare out into the darkness. An air of resignation hung heavily over us, my wife telling me they were expecting he would die soon; at the time I did not understand this sentiment given the situation, I still held out hope. After a couple of hours and several creative search techniques employing the use of extremely long bamboo poles, people started drifting off home to bed. Early the next morning frogmen achieved the inevitable and recovered the body.

So how does a 52 year old man drown in a pond he could have stood up in? My mother used to enjoy telling me ‘all it takes to drown a man is a saucer of water.’ I don’t know how she knows this; I can only suspect her of involvement during World War II in some highly secret, sinister Nazi experimentation. Despite my mother’s wisdom I would still have favoured the man surviving in the chest deep waters of the pond. What reduced his chances of survival was the fact that he was a chronic alcoholic. Not far from death already, he had just been released from hospital and decided to go and do the only thing he liked doing besides drink, fishing. Losing his balance he must have fallen out of his boat into the water, his severely weakened state disabling him from getting out of the pond. It must have been quite a sad, pathetic and miserable way to die, arms flailing until he lost consciousness and the will to live.

Later on in a conversation with my wife she told me that no one in the family was the least bit surprised, if it hadn’t have happened now then it would have happened soon. She then went onto duplicate the argument in the video I had watched less than 24 hours earlier, when she expressed that addiction is a disease that goes far beyond the capacity of willpower. I have never even seen my wife drunk and she abhors all recreational drug use, I was therefore taken aback by her sympathetic views on addiction. She related stories of how her uncle just could not stop drinking, even after expressing his desire to. Skeptics will interject at this point and put forward the willpower argument, but my wife comfortably and freely talked of her uncle’s problem as a disease. One reason I was so surprised by her opinion is addiction was a problem I had suffered but had the opportunity to resolve.

I myself agree with the disease theory, and as a result of a near fatal traffic accident I have not drunk for nearly two years. For me the idea of having a drink with friends, seems ludicrous. There is no way on earth I could stop at one drink, but would proceed to drink until either, I fell over, all the bars were shut, or I got on my motorbike and crashed it into a fastest moving car I could find. I was lucky following my accident, the time I spent in a coma, in the hospital and recovering gave me the chance to realize ‘I can not drink responsibly’, alcohol for me is simply not an option.

Many times I have realized how lucky I was to have the opportunity to learn this lesson, and I wonder, if had this man struggled out of the pond would he have gone on to make the same choice with the same resolve? The margins of fate, that keeps one person alive whilst another dies, are too small to be measured.

As I sat by the coffin, my wife got up and went to sit with a relative but I found it difficult to leave, I could relate to this man like few other people could, his suffering, his wish to take control of his problem but never being able to, the irrepressible desires that drive you to keep drinking and ultimately self destruction. In that respect we were kindred spirits and I knew that our fates could have quite easily been reversed.

Disease or not, addiction not only destroys the lives of the addicts but drags family, friends and colleagues into its destructive maelstrom. People can argue all they want about how best to deal with addiction, but in my experience what a person suffering addiction really needs first is a big piece of luck that allows them to understand why they must stop.