Posted by: dopaminedialogue | 12/08/2009

Proof that this disease does not discriminate…

Tiger has hit a heavy rough patch

It seems almost every day now, we are hearing stories about various celebrities who are discovered to have issues with substances. Anna Nicole Smith seemed to start this spiral downhill, with Heath Ledger following her, although Michael Jackson, Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan and others had been quite obviously struggling for years before them. The list of famous celebrities who have been touched by this disease goes on and on. Sometimes it seems like almost everyone has a problem.

Might Tiger Woods suffer from this disease as well?

I awoke this morning to more news about substance abuse – this one involving Tiger Woods. Rumors are circulating after a witness reported that Woods may have had alcohol, Vicodin, and Ambien in his system on the evening of the famous tree/fire hydrant accident in front of his home. I suspected an Ambien black-out may have played a role in the accident after hearing reports that a witness heard Tiger “snoring” on the scene. Black-outs, specifically black-outs during which people drive or raid the refrigerator with no memory for the event later, are quite common with Ambien.

In the coming weeks, it will be interesting to notice how this story is handled. My only hope is that with an increase in these types of stories that there will also be an increase in awareness. Perhaps one day soon we will begin to chip-away at the stigma – to change the way we look at and treat addiction.

The stigma attached to addiction is what keeps people from seeking help . Addiction is seen as a voluntary action – and at the very beginning, it is – but oftentimes it does not take very long at all before it becomes involuntary. It is this involuntary taking of the substance that eventually leads to catastrophic consequences. The shame of the consequences is what keeps people with this disease, particularly celebrities – who have a definite financial interest in keeping their image “clean” –  in hiding.

If Tiger Woods or other celebrities suffered instead from symptoms of another deadly disease, such as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease, how might we respond differently? If Tiger had something (other than substance use) happen to his brain that greatly impacted his judgment, decision-making, impulse control, and emotional state, among other things – how would we talk about this? How might he and his family handle the illness? How might his doctors handle the illness?

It is time for America to break through its own denial. The type of discussion that should be going on in our world today should center around addiction/substance abuse as an illness, not a moral issue – this type of discussion actually should have taken place a long, long time ago.

Awareness is the only way that the American addiction crisis is going to change.



  1. I hear everything you’re saying here, M. . .and, intellectually, I agree. However, it is often very hard for loved ones to separate the disease/ involuntary substance abuse from the “morally” disturbing behavior to which it leads. Theft, cheating, lying, lack of dependability, a constant trail of chaos, etc. It’s hard to know how to discuss one’s anger and distrust for the addict (which seems very justified based on their behaviors) while also acknowledging that the person suffers from a disease. If my family member addict had cancer and, therefore, said things s/he didn’t mean or threw something across the room in a fit of uncharacteristic anger, that would be one thing. If my famlly member addict steals my mother’s heirloom jewelry and sells it to a pawn shop in order to get money for drugs, the behavior seems to have a different flavor. . . I have a sincere interest in eradicating the stigma attached to seeking help for addictions, but if I was Elin Woods right now, I’d find it hard to dwell in the place of “compassion for my disease-stricken husband” even if I KNEW he was sick. What are your recommendations regarding re-framing the situation?

    • Lisa, I am so glad that you shared this. I think many people can relate to what you’ve posted.

      It has been my experience that so many families do struggle with the very same feelings that you have expressed here. That is why it is called a “family disease” because it impacts every single person connected with the person suffering from an addiction disorder (notice I didn’t say “addict” – I’ll explain that later) and the family oftentimes responds in the best ways they know how, which aren’t always the healthiest ways. It takes learning about the illness and working recovery on BOTH sides for the healing to occur.

      You say, “If my family member addict had cancer and, therefore, said things s/he didn’t mean or threw something across the room in a fit of uncharacteristic anger, that would be one thing. If my famlly member addict steals my mother’s heirloom jewelry and sells it to a pawn shop in order to get money for drugs, the behavior seems to have a different flavor.”

      The only difference in each example is what? Both are examples of socially unacceptable behaviors, but one has a deeper emotional (and financial) value to it than the other. However, there also appears to be this idea/feeling that the person stealing the item did so for selfish reasons – and that is hurtful and also causes a loss of trust – it is a violation. Therefore, there is instant judgment with addiction – and rightly so quite often! The things that people do when they are using are VERY hurtful (I’ve been told a number of stories but one in particular stands out: pawning a child’s Christmas presents on Christmas in order to buy dope.).

      So, people with addiction problems are despised, feared, and not trusted at all. However, although you may not like the person or what they did, it doesn’t take away the fact that they are suffering from a brain disease that causes them to do insanely hurtful things.

      Most human beings want the same things: the love of a family, stability, happiness, money for things they enjoy, connections with others that bring fulfillment, etc. I have to believe that the person who pawned their child’s Christmas presents did not WANT to do such a hurtful thing (and they will tell you that after they sober up), but instead they were DRIVEN to do it. Just like stealing a beloved heirloom is probably not something a person would do if they were in their right mind/using a healthy brain.

      The problem with addiction is that people with the disease are walking around looking and acting okay – they can fake it, and they get really good at faking it – but deep inside, they have a very sick brain. Addiction is an obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you can think of someone that has to touch a light switch 10 times before they enter a room and they can’t stop this behavior no matter how hard they try (or obsessive hand-washing – so bad that their skin starts to crack, peel, and bleed). It seems pretty clear to outsiders that they should just simply stop that behavior. Just stop! But they can’t. And they have shame and guilt over the fact that they’ve lost this type of control – so they hide their behavior. If touching light switches cost money – you better believe they’d probably be stealing money in order to keep touching light switches because they can’t stop! It wouldn’t be because they wanted to hurt people by taking their money…but it would still be very hurtful for the person who lost the cash.

      The other piece of this is the FAMILY DISEASE aspect of it. This is VERY IMPORTANT: Just because a person has a disease that changes their brain and leads them to act in very unhealthy and hurtful ways does not mean that the family should put up with it – in fact, they MUST get to a place where they STOP putting up with it, or the person is likely to continue the harmful behavior as long as they are using. It ALSO does not mean that the person is off of the hook and is protected from having to take real responsibility for their actions. The brain has indeed been impacted, but not the whole brain. They still need to be treated as if there are certain expectations of their behavior.

      The APPROPRIATE response to the addicted person is this message:

      “We will only support recovery behaviors, we will NOT – in ANY WAY – support unhealthy behaviors that are addictive.” So, in other words, “You have to get help and get healthy or you are not going to be allowed to be a part of our lives.” This is a healthy response. This is also a very difficult response because it is painful for everyone involved. To get to this point, takes a lot of hard work for families – let me tell you!

      So, if the person stealing the heirloom was living at home and using – they must leave the home (they should not be living there and using any way – this would be enabling). Perhaps if they have no place to go, they will be forced to enter treatment. If they were not living at home, then another option is for the police to be notified of the theft and the person arrested. Perhaps the consequence (the arrest) will lead to placement in a treatment center. To ignore what was done only sends the message: “We will put up with your hurtful behaviors.”

      When the PAIN of the use outweighs the PLEASURE for the addicted person – they will seek help. Often it is the job of the family to make addictive life painful for the addicted person. Once they get help and work towards recovery, it is important for them to remind themselves of the pain they suffered in the past (the reasons they do not return to using). This is what AA, NA, CA, etc can do for a person is help remind them each day of WHY they do not use again. It is THAT powerful of a high that they have to REMIND themselves every day not to do it. People without the disease can’t relate to that because they probably have NEVER in their lives experienced something so powerful that it had the ability to take control over their thinking and behavior (and, in turn, the power to hurt their family).

      Also, when the pain outweighs the pleasure for the FAMILY – that is when they finally decide to get healthy themselves and start to stand up for their own happiness by saying “we will only support healthy decisions” (read the family section for more on this).

      If, after the person has entered recovery, there are still feelings of anger, poor trust, resentment, etc., it is up to the family member to work through that through Al-anon or another avenue (like individual therapy). Also, the recovering person – through working the 12 steps of the 12-step program – will, if they are working it correctly – make amends emotionally and FINANCIALLY, in any way that they possibly can for the harm that they committed while they were using. If this amends does not happen (or does not happen to the extent that it should), then each person has to handle that in their own way – perhaps by distancing themselves and staying healthy and happy in the best way that they can.

      Lastly, can the family change the past? Can they take back what has happened through addiction? No. But, the recovering person and each family member individually can continue to work every day on their own recovery and find peace, forgiveness, and eventually happiness in their own way.

      Note: the reason I do my best to say “person with an addiction disorder” is to continue to eradicate the stigma. The disease is WHAT THEY HAVE, not who they are. It is a different way of looking at the person and helps me continue to see the person as a human being and not an “addict” (which even I still struggle with at times).

      Hope this helps!

  2. Excellent response, Michelle. Thanks.

  3. Michelle,Thank you for this website.You know how much you have helped me in my personal struggle,and now with this website,help and useful info is available to everyone.Thank you again for all of your help.

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