Do people grow out of cancer or diabetes? Of course not, cancer sufferers and diabetics need specific treatment for these diseases. So do addicts. Without treatment, addiction will get worse over time, never better. A characteristic of the disease of addiction is that it is progressive, starting out in a seemingly harmless way that ends up ferocious, the gravity of the negative consequences increasing over time.
Like many kids, when I was about 12 years old, I experimented with alcohol for the first time. I was on the beach with my school mates. I pinched a bottle of scotch from my father’s restaurant and cracked it open to share. While my mates had a couple of glasses and left it at that, I drank as much as I could and woke up the next morning at home covered in vomit, with no memory of the night before or how I got home. This may have been an early sign that drugs and alcohol affected me differently from others, but only looking back.
The signs of my addiction didn’t become clear until much later. In my early twenties it was still vaguely under control, and I could quite harmlessly enjoy a few ecstasy pills and a couple of bags of cocaine over the weekend, and drink a few beers during the week. I wasn’t really dedicated to any meaningful work or study path but I was doing OK. As my disease progressed, so did my tolerance for drugs and need for more increased. By the time I was in my mid-thirties that 12-year-old kid down at the beach with his mates having his first real crack at the grog, that weekend warrior using a moderate amount of drugs somewhat socially, was a seasoned chronic illicit drug user using ice and heroin like it was my full time job. My disease had progressed and I was sicker than I had ever been.
It was not my plan. I certainly didn’t aspire to become a drug addict. When I picked up that drink as a young kid I was just another reckless, adventurous, risk-taking youth. In my twenties I used drugs with a lot of my friends and the vast majority of them didn’t end up with ice and heroin habits or lives that resembled a zoo where all the animals had been let out of their cages. They were simply recreational drug users who could stop or moderate their use. Their lives and their minds didn’t fall apart due to their drug use. They didn’t keep using to the point where they lost wives, businesses and houses. But I did because I’m an addict. I wasn’t going to simply grow out of it. I needed treatment.
Addiction is a tidal disease. When the tide ebbs, it will often look to be an improvement, until it rises again. Family members say, ‘But he was doing so well for a while there. He got a job and things seemed to be back on track. And then all of a sudden we’re back to square one’. This is because a job is not treatment. Neither is a new relationship, the birth of child or a holiday. These developments may help an addict moderate their use for weeks, even months, but the end result is always the same – relapse.
Their disease has not been treated and without treatment an addict will eventually use again.