Student Newspaper of American University
March 6, 2000
Addicts have choices
"Liberty and Responsibility are positively correlated, you can't decrease or increase one without doing the same to the other." This is a statement I will remember for the rest of my life. It is something professor Jeffrey Schaler told me in the first class I had with him my freshman year. At the time I didn't give the idea its due attention. But now, after a lot of personal reflection, it is a statement I believe in very deeply.
I have two purposes, the first is to argue that addiction is a choice. The second is to speak of Schaler as one of the most intelligent, challenging and outstanding educators I've ever had the benefit of encountering. I can, without hesitation, say that my life has been changed for the better by having this professor. I now question the accepted norms until I am satisfied, instead of just taking things for granted due to the fact that I've been told that I should.
Is addiction a choice? There is no doubt, in my opinion. People choose whether to engage in a certain behavior. My definition of addiction is a repetitive choice to engage in a certain behavior. There is no loss of control involved. Every time a so-called "alcoholic" drinks, it is a choice. Every time a nicotine "addict" smokes, it is his or her choice. Every time a crack "addict" lights up, it is a choice. Human beings choose their behavior every time, positive or negative.
The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is to admit that you are powerless over your addiction. I would argue with that. The first step is to come to Alcoholics Anonymous and make a decision to help yourself. After making this amazing stride, so-called "alcoholics" must admit they are powerless over alcohol. This is somewhat contradictory. If they were powerless, they'd be at a bar and not an AA meeting. So just as "alcoholics" choose to drink, they also choose to stop. This is illustrated every time a new person walks into an AA meeting, every time a smoker decides that a cigarette is his or her last and every time a crack "addict" decides that they're done with such a destructive drug.
My father is what contemporary society would deem an "alcoholic." He's been to every treatment center that this country has to offer. None of these amazing "treatments" helped him. It wasn't due to his addiction; it was due to his choice. He never decided to quit. My father hasn't had a drink of alcohol in two and a half years. Not due to some revolutionary treatment, but due to the fact that he chose his family over alcohol. The day I confronted him about his behavior was the day it ended. We're talking about a choice. The so-called addiction ends when people decide it should.
I first encountered Schaler in my Deprivation of Liberty class second semester freshman year. His ideas were nothing short of radical to my mode of thinking. Since a certified addiction counselor raised me I dismissed Schaler's ideas as ridiculous. In fact, I spent the car ride home from school arguing against the ideas with my mother and brother. After all, he never asked me to agree with him, just to know his arguments. I fact I got an A in the course. But during the car ride home I played Devil's advocate, taking the side of the arguments I'd learned. The more I discussed them, the more they interested me. I spent the rest of the summer re-reading the information I'd learned in the course. After much consideration I began to change my viewpoints. I came back my sophomore year ready to learn more about the arguments Dr. Schaler presented.
After a while I decided for myself that the arguments Schaler put forth made sense. This realization made me reflect on all the positions I held. Did I hold them because I learned them growing up, or because I actually believed in them? Due to Schaler's influence, I approach every topic with a healthy skepticism. However, I now know that I believe things for the right reasons and not because of what I've been taught.
I plan on attending Schaler's class in March to hear what professor Kester has to say. I am sure it will be interesting. I am also sure that Schaler will give Kester's beliefs their due credit as he always does. He gave my beliefs credit freshman year. Since then I've rethought those beliefs. All I would ask of Dr Schaler's critics is that they give his ideas the same consideration that he gives to theirs.
Justin Pascoe is a senior in the School of Public Affairs.