Alcohol and Drug Abuse Relapse is a Choice

By: Edward Wilson

Nothing quite highlights the hypocrisy of our legal system like the condoning of celebrity excess as being due to "relapse." That is nonsense. Lindsay Lohan did not relapse - Ms. Lohan is an arrogant young woman who does what she wants and believes, apparently correctly, that she can get away with it because she is a celebrity with a convenient "disease."

But drug and alcohol abuse is a choice, certainly at 21. Other behaviors are also choices: smoking; uncontrolled Type II diabetes; un-medicated Bi-Polar Disorder - all are choices. "Relapse," real or faked, is a choice.

There is not a single documented case of anyone ever walking down the street, being grabbed by a bottle, dragged into an alley, and forced to consume the contents against their will. Or light a cigarette. Or consume pancakes with maple syrup. Or skip their medications. Let's get a grip here, folks.

No single myth contributes more to the continued abuse of drugs and alcohol than the unfounded idea that addiction is an uncontrollable disease with which, like with cancer, or malaria, you can expect spontaneous relapses. Hogwash! Relapse is an active event that the drunk, smoker, addict, diabetic, or manic-depressive initiates.

Saying so annoys a lot of people, mostly those who want to excuse their behavior because it "wasn't their fault," and those who want to reserve that excuse for the next time they want to make a bad choice. But it's still just an excuse.

Is it difficult to change an ingrained behavior? Certainly it is. Is it tempting to return to it even long after it's been left behind? Of course. It can be tough to avoid relapse. Each of us who's had a problem tend to remember the benefits while memories of the liabilities fade, whether our habit of choice involved alcohol, nicotine, manic highs, pecan cinnamon rolls, or any other self-destructive habit. But excusing a return to these bad old days shouldn't be aided by pretending it isn't a voluntary choice.

We all spend a lot of our life avoiding bad habits we first cultivated then left behind and then returned to. We all relapse in many forms over the years and spend a lot of time kicking ourselves for it. Usually, extracting ourselves is something we manage with only occasional help, and assisted mostly by the realization that we actually can.

That's the reason why those who succeed, without merely substituting one obsession for another, tend to also prevail over a number of bad habits. Former alcohol abusers turn out to be ex-smokers, too, who are no longer overweight. Figuring out that you can change a behavior teaches you that all behaviors can be successfully modified. You are not powerless.

Occasionally society helps us along with negative consequences for bad behavior. DUI/DWIs are no longer acceptable, unless you are a starlet of course, but even that is beginning to change. The problem remains, however, if we are all excused from accountability for the short-term results of our behaviors, why would we worry about the long-term ones? And if we have a "disease" over which we are truly powerless, why would we even try to change? Obviously it's futile. And just as clearly, we have a ready-made excuse when we decide to revert to our old, self-destructive habits.

Instead of actively embracing this disempowering "disease" model, our legal system and our society in general, needs to decide that change is possible and that relapse, while regrettable, is a voluntary choice. Only when we empower people to change, will we begin to see some real behavioral changes in those struggling to become ex-drinkers, ex-smokers and ex-addicts.

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Dr. Edward Wilson has been developing and providing alternative alcohol counseling, including moderation, sincve 1990. He is the co-founder and Clinical Director of Your Empowering Solutions, Inc, located in S. California.

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