What If We Saw Addiction Like We See Cancer.

What if we saw addiction more like we see cancer? Both deadly diseases, they are worlds apart in how they are perceived.
It would sound heartless to tell a cancer patient to "get over it," yet alcoholics and addicts are judged harshly for their malady.
Cancer cells don't announce their presence until enough have amassed to be felt, detected by tests, or cause pain. Likewise, addiction often has someone in its steel grips before they realize it.
Addiction and cancer have common ground beyond their lethal potential. Research has made headway regarding causes and treatment of both, but unanswered questions remain and cures are elusive.
Personal habits can be contributing factors. Genetic predisposition seems prominent. Many forms of treatment can help put each in remission.
But they continue to exact a huge toll in our country on a daily basis. People don't ask for or deserve either. I didn't ask for either, but I am facing both.
I am an alcoholic in recovery since 1989 and a breast cancer survivor since 2008. Very grateful to be alive, I don't have to face either disease alone. I wish that for everyone.
Amy Winehouse's death made headlines recently and generated abundant comments and coverage. (Toxicology reports are pending on Winehouse, but regardless of what killed her, addiction impacted her life.)
It is disconcerting that a celebrity death puts the calamity of addiction in the news for a mere few days before it flits quietly away again. We need to keep addiction in the headlines. Not individual tragedies, but the collective devastation.
It's not every day a famed singer dies, but it is every day that lives are lost to alcohol and other drugs. Just your average alcoholic or addict. Gone. Leaving behind loved ones, lost dreams, and heartache.
Their stories are no less tragic than Winehouse's, but it is too easy to detach when the victim is someone we don't personally know, too easy to remove ourselves from the urgency.
Bring it closer to home. We all know people struggling with addiction. It may be someone in the office next door, the house down the street, or the bedroom across the hall. Some are alive, but not well.
Others make headlines in the local paper when they crash cars, drown, commit murder/suicide or have obituaries that simply say "died unexpectedly." Maybe if we stated openly that addiction killed them, more people would take notice and stigma would fall away.
Cancer's victims get a nice line in their obituary about "losing a long battle." Addicts are in a fight for their lives too.
Addiction is non-discriminating, touching all classes and races. Those afflicted need help from outside themselves. We wouldn't expect a cancer patient to treat themselves. Why do we think addicts can?
The bitter judgment is obvious. Weak-willed. Created their own troubles. Why don't they just quit? Instead, let's ask ourselves if there is someone in our own lives who needs support and if we are the ones who can offer it.
Both illnesses impact an entire family. Yet, families dealing with cancer get support and sympathy while families with addiction get discussed in hushed tones. Secrets are perpetuated by the rampant denial, guilt, and shame in these families.
The proverbial elephant in the living room needs to get kicked out, but it takes a concerted effort. If making a meal for a chemo patient and her family is helpful, so is not enabling an addict to continue putting themselves and others in danger.
Each studied for centuries, people accept cancer as a disease but debate addiction as one. Alcoholism has been recognized as a disease since 1956 by the American Medical Association.
Addiction as a disease is an ongoing discussion; but it has clear symptoms, is chronic in nature, and terminal if left untreated. All debates aside, addiction is headline-worthy.
Cancer makes the news regularly, helping advance awareness, prevention, treatment, research funding, and people's willingness to talk about it. We can strive for the same with addiction. We can even hope for lives saved and families restored.Lisa Valentine, of Hastings, is a school counselor
BuddyBo BuddyBo
56-60, F
6 Responses Dec 10, 2012

I commented on this last night, but I'm still thinking about it so I need to get some more off my chest. There are more differences between cancer and addiction. Cancer patients don't come home and beat up their kids after a night at the bar. Cancer patients don't drive home on the wrong side of the highway killing innocent people after an all nighter. Cancer patients don't wipe out the savings account during a week-long bender in Las Vegas with a hooker. Drunks do. Sorry if this offends. I'm a little bitter at times.

Your "bitter" post highlights why our time at meetings is spent talking about our worst experiences. They force us to remember what despicable people we become when drunk and this is one of the most powerful methods of reinforcing why we must never drink again.

You also make it brutally clear why our loved ones find it so hard to forgive us even after we have stopped drinking.

As the wife of an active alcoholic and the daughter of uncontrolled diabetic, I have often compared those two diseases like you have with cancer. One difference that I will point out though, is that addition is curable (or contained through the help of a treatment program). It's a simple cure, but not necessarily an easy one. If cancer had a simple cure, but the cure was ignored or denied, cancer might be treated differently too.

i love your comments it just show how silly people are i am an alcoholic and have terminal cancer in the bowel lung liver and bone two years ago they wanted to put me in a box and bury me. so they gave me some pills and **** load of chemo the cancer is pretty good at the moment the little pills work. i have been clean and sober for seven years now that is over 2500 days one day at a time and i can tell you there is no cure i will aways be an addict. there is no cure no little pills to take if i pick up a drink i die if i stop taking the chemo pills i will not die so my biggest gig at the moment is to stay clean and sober today. life rocks today tomorrow will look after it self

I was diagnosed with stage 3, grade 3 breast cancer on Nov. 20, 2012. I have not had a single drink since my diagnosis. Yet, before that I was struggling in my addiction and couldn't stop. There is a huge difference between addiction and cancer! My addiction was fueled by self-pity, self-centeredness and ungratitutde. I was self-destructive. I didn't respect my body. As soon as I had a cancer diagnosis I realized that I did want to live. Plain and simple. I can't afford to be self-indulgent. I need to fight in order to survive. Cancer is physical whereas addiction (once the detox part is over) is mental. The reason society looks down on addicts is because they cause society a lot of problems. A big portion of crime is drug related!! So yes, there is a huge difference.

But having said that, I do think that addicts and alcoholics need help! And no, they shouldn't be judged. But I think there should be a limit. I know people that have gone to rehab 17 times - all paid for by the government. I also know people that steel and ruin the lives of their loved ones. When my cousin left my aunt in financial ruin of course the family was upset and judgmental. You can say that it was the drugs that led him to do that but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt. It is for this reason, that I would never take in an addict, unless I saw very serious signs of wanting recovery.

I commend your bravery on beating two terrible diseases.

Your story gave me a burst of courage

Thank you

Well said

Congratulations for staying free n battling cancer.You are an inspiration for me.
Keep coming back, it works !
Please post more.
Love n Hugs

Yeah...it's unfortunate that some people can't understand the nature of addiction...fortunately through the fellowship I also know many that do.....addiction seems to be one of those diseases that are swept under the rug... for the longest time I thought I was the only person who did what I did....boy was I wrong (thank the lord).