24 hours have passed since the overdose death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and the lines have been drawn. On the one hand, folks like me (and the AMA and the Supreme Court) arguing the disease model of alcoholism and addiction.
On the other hand, the vast majority of society calling Hoffman a loser, a weakling, a junkie and a man of terrible moral character. He simply made the wrong choices. It was his choice to put that needle in his arm. His death is his responsibility.
They’re only partially right. Once Hoffman was introduced to the disease model of addiction through treatment, he had a responsibility to A) admit that he had a disease and B) treat that disease. For twenty some years, he chose B.
But he then suffered from a medical issue that required a prescription for opiates. Inside his brain, the synapses that had long forgotten the omnipotent pleasure of that neurotransmitter dopamine, were gloriously reawakened. And it killed him. At some point, the seductive allure of that overwhelming feeling of pleasure, of wellness, predictably overtook his commitment to treatment. Opiate (heroin, Oxycontin, Vicodin) addicts are often “taken out” by the prescriptions of well-meaning physicians. They often return quickly to their opiate of choice and often die. I know of several people this has happened to. Often people, like Hoffman, who had long periods of drug abstinence.
So yeah, at the end of the day, he had a choice…throw himself headlong into his recovery, or fall victim to the chemical orgy taking place in his brain. It’s a battle borne out of the disease of addiction…that is too often lost.
Back to personal responsibility. I’ve been reading a lot of comments about his choices…his choice to slam heroin in the first place. I’m going to step out on a limb here and venture a guess that Hoffman’s first experience with mind-altering chemicals wasn’t with heroin. In fact, it was probably tobacco, or caffeine, or the most addictive drug–alcohol.
Alcohol is a mind-altering substance just like heroin. And it’s legal. And it’s deadly. And it’s abuse has filled our prisons in record numbers.
Yesterday’s Superbowl was chock full of advertisements aimed at promoting our ingestion of this mind-altering chemical…all the while being urged to “drink responsibly”.
What a joke.
To the alcoholic, there is no such thing. They MUST drink. It’s what defines the disease of alcoholism. That LEGAL substance, that we are constantly encouraged to consume, is the foundation of the disease.
How is heroin different? Or Vicodin? Or cocaine. Or marijuana? They are all mind-altering substances that are classified as illegal substances that act in our brains, on the cellular level, in the same exact manner as the legal substance alcohol.
But hey, he was just a junkie. He had a choice.
Drink responsibly…and continue to keep your head buried in the sand. They’re just junkies after all.