A Tale of Two Diseases

by Allan Schwartz

The announcement in early 2000 that Darryl Strawberry once again pleaded “no contest” to charges of cocaine possession and that, this time, he was suspended from baseball for one full year came as a surprise and disappointment to many people. Newspaper headlines called this latest scandal, "the end of the line." Over the years, the media has published many other critical and unsympathetic headlines and articles about his drug addiction. Yet, when Strawberry underwent surgery for colon cancer and, more recently, experienced a reoccurrence and spread of cancer, everyone expressed concern and sympathy over the state of his health and the misfortune of this life-threatening condition.

The real question that must be asked is why we, as a society, view drug addiction as any less of a disease than cancer? As a disease entity, drug addiction is apt to result in relapses and the victim must constantly struggle to remain abstinent. The surprise is less that Strawberry was arrested for possession of drugs but more that the media and the public reacted as though he deliberately and irresponsibly committed an immoral and criminal offense and deserves no other chances to rectify his career and life. Clearly, the same attitude did not prevail when the public learned that, rather than a relapse of cocaine use, he had a “relapse” of cancer.

When it comes to drug and alcohol abuse or dependence, we tend to blame the victim and this is neither helpful to the person who takes drugs nor does it allow us to address the need for treatment to combat his or her illness. The fact is that, rich or poor, successful or not, disenfranchised or privileged, those caught in the tragic web of addiction are victims of a disease and are just as hurt, debilitated, depressed and damaged as if they had another chronic condition like heart disease or diabetes.

Until we, as a society, come to terms with the fact that addiction is a disease, we will continue to blame and criminalize its victims. Interestingly, while we blame the victims, we seem unable or unwilling to do very much about the drug lords who supply the tools of destruction and are rewarded with millions of dollars for the human tragedy they inspire.

Depression, hopelessness, emotional conflict and suffering know no socioeconomic, racial, religious or ethnic boundaries. Whatever the problems are that ultimately lead to the use and eventual misuse of substances, they afflict all groups and catch them in the common net we call “addiction.” It isn’t quite so easy to "just say no," no more than it’s easy to “just say no” to any other type of disease process. We need to start helping people rather than rebuking those who have the misfortune to suffer from addiction, like the tragic Mr. Strawberry.

Adapted, with permission, from Dr. Allan N. Schwartz’s Web site, located at: http://www.psychotherapynewyork.com/

Date published: 9/15/00
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 9 Oct 2013
    Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.

 

 

Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children, and by children to adults.
-- Thomas Szasz
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