Philip Seymour Hoffman and Why Addiction Isn’t A Choice

by Dick on February 3, 2014 · 35 comments

in Celebrities, Drug Addiction, Recovery, Relapse

philip-seymour-hoffmanWhen I saw the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman lost his long-time struggle with addiction to a heroin overdose, I audibly gasped “Oh, no!” at my Twitter feed. Lost in the unanswerable why, things were a blur for a few minutes after that.

I posted on my personal Facebook feed about how sorry I was that addiction had claimed another victim. One of my alleged “friends” made this asinine comment:

Guy had a net worth of 35 million. Had access to the best facilities in the world. Feel bad for his children but at some point in his life he made a conscience decision to stick a needle in his arm. No one chooses to get cancer. It just happens but you can choose not jabbing a heroin filled needle into your vein.

My blood started to boil. Like millions of others and some of the media, my “friend” just didn’t get the disease of addiction.

Let me set the record straight. Addiction is not a choice. It has nothing to do with fault or blame.

I know this from personal experience, and from hearing the stories and watching the successful (and unsuccessful) recovery of hundreds of alcoholics and drug addicts in various recovery programs of which I’ve participated.

The addict or alcoholic does not choose to be afflicted with the disease of addiction. When the addict is a child, he doesn’t daydream and say to himself, “When I grow up, I want to be a heroin addict and stick a needle in my arm everyday…” No one in their right mind would choose to become a drug addict or alcoholic.

And there’s the rub. No one in their right mind…

Addicts and alcoholics suffer from a mental disease of the brain — as accepted by the American Medical Association, National Institute of Health and American Psychological Association. Our brains are not “right” or “normal” when afflicted with this disease. Although there is a scientific debate on this issue, I believe that the vast majority of people who suffered from addiction were born or predisposed to the disease. Some alcoholics knew they were alcoholics from the very first drink. Sometimes the disease is triggered by trauma. Sometimes it’s just a long progressive process. But for some reason, people like Philip Seymour Hoffman are more susceptible to the effects of the addictive qualities of alcohol and drugs and will continue to use despite the negative consequences including the specter of death.

That said, the question of choice does enter into the equation. I believe that anyone suffering from addiction can choose to get clean and sober. There is an element of personal responsibility which comes into play when one makes the decision to get sober. But when the addict is in the throws of addiction, dope sick and cannot think straight or rationally, he doesn’t necessarily have a choice of whether to use. He uses to stay alive and to become “normal” again, or so he thinks. And that’s the insanity of the disease and how it makes talented, educated people like PSH do insane things.

But getting clean and sober is a scary prospect for most addicts. It’s a beast. For me, getting sober has been the single most difficult thing I have ever had to do in my life. I would rather study and take the bar exam every week. I would rather go to the dentist every day. Well, maybe not. I hate the dentist.

Some people recover. Some people like Mr. Hoffman do not, and they die. Addiction does not discriminate based on wealth or celebrity status. For every Philip Seymour Hoffman, there are a thousand nameless soldiers of recovery, trudging along every day, going to meetings, reading from their Hazelden 24 Hour Book, and not drinking or using one day at a time. We don’t talk about those folks. Instead, we lament and blame Mr. Hoffman for “choosing” to stick a heroin filled needle in his arm.

Trust me, he didn’t choose that for his life. Would anyone?

To perpetuate the myth that addiction is somehow a choice is irresponsible.

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  • Mike

    Addiction is not a Disease!

    • Dick

      Mike, thanks for the “informative” comment. On this blog, you need to back up your statements with actual facts and data. Sorry, try again!


    • nick p

      Clearly mike doesn’t know anyone with this disease and is probably as ignorant as comment makes him seem. Thanks for the article man one day at a time. I’m 19 and coming up on a year sober and heroin addiction is no joke. Hardest thing I’ve ever done too.

  • Sober Lawyer

    Mike, thanks for the “informative” comment. Next time try backing up your asinine comment with some facts, data, or actual personal experience. –Dick

    • Counselorchick

      Wow. You are so brainwashed it is truly remarkable. Attack much?

      • Sober Lawyer

        How am I “brainwashed” Counselorchick? You don’t even know me in the least bit. You just don’t like what I’m saying so you resort to personal attacks. And yes, I have zero patience for idiocy on my own blog. That’s why it’s mine.

        • Counselorchick

          I rest my case. Anyone who believes the lies in the 12 step cult religion has had their brain washed clean of independent thought. That you take that fact as an attack is all on you. You’re right on one point. It’s your blog and you can spread the indoctrination all you want. Wilson (and all his cronie guru old timers) have done their job well! Peace out.

          I actually thought this was an article on the Fix.

          • Sober Lawyer

            It’s not even worth arguing with people like you. Are you an actual licensed counselor? Because if you are, you should have your license taken away for your negligent disregard for one of the most successful treatment programs ever created. Fact.

          • Counselorchick

            No it is most certainly not successful … unless you are defining ‘success’ as a cult religion camouflaged as medicine. AA is it’s own mind-fuck religion that hides it’s religious nature to lure people into rituals while converting them. Thru this hiding they have been able to have people court ordered into their religion by courts and the psychiatric profession – leading to nothing but threats to freedom and fortune. AA is nothing more than a faith-healing sect of fundamental christianity. As a lawyer, you should know this.

            As a human being writing about all this, you really should do your research. Here ya go. There is a lot more from whence this came. Stop spreading lies.


          • Counselorchick

            One more, just for those who may be reading this and not commenting. Seems lawyer boy is too far brainwashed to learn but others want the truth. Here it is:


          • Sober Lawyer

            Have you ever actually participated personally in the AA program? Just curious how you can make these unsupported disparaging statements.

            As for citing Dr. Peele, you should know that Peele supported Moderation Management founder Audrey Kishline, who also subscribed to the belief that addiction is not a disease. After giving up her own attempts at moderation to seek help with AA, Kishline was convicted of killing a father and his 12-year-old daughter while driving under the influence of alcohol. This was widely claimed to invalidate Kishline’s position and by association, Peele’s. Peele’s research and treatment programs are also funded through grants by the The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), and the Wine Institute. Hmmm, conflict of interest much? Peele is in the business of selling his own treatment program and books.

            Believe what you want to believe.

          • Counselorchick

            Thank you for bringing up Kishline. She went back to AA. Months after she made the choice to listen to the lies of AA is when she killed those people with her car. Love it when steppers use this as an example … She was in your cult religion when she lost all power in her life. Thank you! Keep coming back!

  • Bill

    Thanks for the good thoughts. I’M 81 and have been sober one day at a time for about thirty- five years. Can’t remember the date because my original group didn’t keep score. You had one day, and that was what it was all about. I still feel that way. Keep that blog going, I’m putting it on my favorites bar.

    • Sober Lawyer

      Bill, great to hear from an “old timer”! I enjoy and cherish the wisdom and experience of the long term folks in sobriety. Stay in touch…

  • Phil

    “Some alcoholics knew they were alcoholics from the very first drink.”

    Whether or not there is significant evidence that this is true, there is an obvious difference between drinking alcohol and doing heroin – one is legal, the other is not.

    Alcohol is socially acceptable, easy to acquire, and is relatively safe for use in moderation. No one is horrified to discover you tried alcohol, and – given that what you said is true – no one would blame you for trying it, especially given how many opportunities are presented to a person in their life to do so.

    Heroin, however, is extremely socially unacceptable, and it’s common knowledge that it is highly addictive to anyone who does it. A person doesn’t just come across some heroin and believe it’s safe and acceptable to try by any standard. You can absolutely choose “not to jab a needle in your arm.”

    • Doesn’t matter

      Your lack of compassion and understanding for your fellow human beings is very sad. Nothing in this world is black and white.

    • Sober Lawyer

      Phil, that’s what we call a straw-man argument in the legal profession. It doesn’t matter whether the substance is legal or not. Although alcohol is now legal (remember the Prohibition?), it’s the deadliest drug on the planet, and the cause of thousands of deaths each year. If it were discovered today, it would be a Class C controlled substance.

      Likewise, painkillers are opiates like heroin, and are readily available by prescription and on the black market. They aren’t technically illegal. Did you know that painkiller abuse often leads to heroin use? I’ve seen regular folks take painkillers after surgery, then get hooked, then next thing they know they are using heroin.

      You, as a non-addict, may have a choice as to whether to use heroin. But the drug addict does not necessarily have a choice in the matter. This is simply the case of — you don’t understand and never will.

    • Peggy

      Yeah, legality has nothing to do with it. And like the author said lots of legal pain killers have opiates in them. Codeine is from the poppy just like heroin. You can buy codeine over the counter where I am from. Morphine is basically the same as opium. Philip Seymour Hoffman was put on pain killers last year and then was hooked again and went back to heroin, probably after his pain killers ran out. This is very common for relapse. It is also a very common way to begin the addict life.

      On the note of how heroin is used, people also start by smoking or snorting it not just straight up injecting. People come across it that way at parties. And it may not be socially acceptable on a world scale like alcohol but it can be socially acceptable amongst groups and at parties. Shared around in circles at parties. Lots of people tend to try drugs when they are already inebriated and hence their judgment is impaired. And heroin is not addictive to anyone who does it. I know people who have used it recreationally. Just because it is more addictive doesn’t mean it is completely addictive. I know people who picked up a drink at a party when they were young, became alcoholics as a result and then moved on to harder things and became addicted to that also. And those harder things were not always illegal I might add. I really feel that if someone has picked up a drink in their lives they have no place saying “They should just not of picked it up.”

      I would like to point out that I am not an addict and yet I can still completely understand how someone can be an addict. It’s called empathy and learning about the human brain. Just type in “how habits form” and maybe you’ll get an understanding of how you are not that different from an addict. Because all humans have “worn in” habit pathways in their brains and those “worn in” pathways may weaken but they never go away completely. And the slightest provocation can be someones undoing. For an drug addict it is a thousand times worse.

      Removing stigma, building compassion, more reach out programs and help, legalisation and control of drugs. These are some of the things which will help save people, judgment never will.

  • Ex addict

    While mental illness certainly is an contributor to addiction you cannot use “I have a disease so I am going to finish this bottle” as an excuse to continue down your road of destruction. I kicked heroin because I chose to, I didn’t use addiction as a crutch to continue my reckless and selfish behavior. I am not saying addicts shouldn’t be given all the love and support possible but I think we tend to rely on the “I have a disease I can’t help myself” aspect of addiction way too much.

    • Sober Lawyer

      I agree with that statement. The premise of my post is simply that addiction is not a choice. No one chooses to contract this disease. But I agree ultimately it’s on you to get clean and sober. But I have nothing but compassion and understanding for those who are unable to get clean and sober.

      • Sober Lawyer

        A guy in one of my meetings committed suicide a few months ago, seemingly out of the blue. He was two years sober and blew his freaking head off. Husband and father of 2 little ones. To think that he was in that much pain that he had to kill himself…I don’t even know where to begin. This disease kills.

        • Sober Lawyer

          And another thing. Calling addiction “reckless” and “selfish” behavior also shows just a gross misunderstanding of the disease. You have to understand the mental and physical compulsion and obsession which takes over the alcoholic/addict. Of course they are going to engage in reckless behavior! That’s the essence of the disease. They can’t stop without intervention, treatment and daily program support. They have no defense agains the first drink, pill or joint.

          • Ex addict

            I do understand completely the mental and physical compulsion. I was in love with a heroin addict and become one myself. I’ve lived through all the lies and manipulation and the self-serving drug seeking behavior with her. But I had enough and made a choice to stop and have been clean for years now. I saw the damage I was doing to myself and my family. That I would either be dead or in jail at some point down the road. Addiction is not a disease like cancer or AIDS. Again, mental illness such as depression etc are huge contributors but let’s not remove the responsibility from the individual. You are very much in control of your actions and chose to continue down the road and not stop or get the help you need. I absolutely do not want to come off as uncaring here but it really irks me when people use the word “disease” like it’s something you can’t help because it sure as hell is and I’m proof of that.

          • Sober Lawyer

            Addiction is a disease and accepted as such by the American Medical Association, National Institute of Health and American Psychological Association, among other medical associations. Who are you to say it isn’t?

            How did you get clean and sober? What program, if any, did you use? You should be grateful and understanding, instead of judgmental. You are one of the lucky ones. Although you don’t use anymore, you sure sound like an addict. The monkey may be off your back but the circus is still in town…

          • Louisiana Lady

            I’ve been an alcoholic since the age of 17 with a couple of dry years here and there (now 53 and a couple of weeks sober). I’ve gone backwards and forwards on the addiction / not an addiction argument. Being a cynic by nature I appreciation your logical approach to both sides of an argument had me wondering what you think about this… I heard that in the late 70’s and early 80’s the AMA decided to classify addiction as a disease as it was the only way the health insurance industry would reimburse them for treating alkies and addicts – hence the boom in treatment centers as an alternative to smoke-filled church basements and a new-money making business for physicians and treatment centers. Not that I’m against medical treatment and rehab, been through some tough withdrawals. Just curious as to your take on it.

          • Sober Lawyer

            I have never heard of that theory and I highly doubt its veracity. I think classifying alcoholism as a disease helps everyone the most. Statistics show that the greatest success comes from a combination of medical treatment program and a 12 step program. I went to Hazelden’s 30 day program and I wouldn’t be sober today if I didn’t get that high intensity help. There are also anti-craving medications like Campral which are covered by health insurance. Same for Antabuse.

          • Counselorchick

            That is 100% true whether steppers like it or not. Hazelden and Betty Ford have merged because those making millions off of this ‘disease theory’ need to keep the money rolling in and as people wake up to the psychological and personal safety issues in the 12 step cult religion, they are finding real help – not faith healing disguised as medicine.

        • Counselorchick

          Out of the blue!?!? Horrible. He was ‘powerless.’ That is not ‘out of the blue!’

      • Ex addict

        I 100% agree with you and it’s a hard argument to win when most people have no idea what it’s like to battle an addiction or have a loved one go down that road. We need more love, support and compassion NOT incarceration and shaming. I am sorry for your loss, please keep up the positive work you’re doing though. I’m sure you mean the world to the people you’re helping.

  • Recovering Addict

    Addiction is not a choice. I’ve just been trying to come out of a relapse and it is very very painful. I want my job, I love my family but, being sober and staying sober is a daily battle. When you relapse you dont know how quickly you can sink and hit bottom. Believe me it is scary. I have a good job, a wonderful wife but, today i just want the agony to go away. The moments of bliss you feel when you give in are a big reprieve from the head thumping depressive anxiety and confusion. I am a bright guy, I have a masters, support my family, work hard but, when addiction grabs you it is not easy seeing the forest for the trees.

  • Counselorchick

    Chicken shit.

  • massive

    EVEN Marty Mann didn’t say that. Addiction is not a disease.

  • John

    Excellent post. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts.Your colleague obviously doesn’t understand the true nature of addiction and the need for escapism. It was mental illness that drove me to use. I am to steal your phrase (please don’t sue me) a soldier of recovery over twenty years now (truly blessed) but there was a time in my life I didn’t have a choice. I had to use and abuse alcohol or I would have topped myself. However, I could not do it without A.A.

    True, it’s sad that Philip Seymour Hoffman died the way that he did but some of us have to in order for the rest of us to live. Addiction is a choice today thank God i know this now. It wasn’t always like that for me or my family. My father, mother and older brother have all died from alcoholism. My father was sober in A.A. for 11 months and lifted the first drink at a wedding. That day he died (alcoholic poisoning) at the ripe old age of 41. I have a brother who is wheel chair bound because of his alcoholism and will quite possibly die from the disease very soon .I have a younger brother who is also a practicing alcoholic who no doubt may die if he continues. None of these people decided to become addicts. I’m sure it wasn’t their chosen career path.

    Nonetheless they have and are destroying their lives with this deep seated insidious disease. As you have rightly pointed out no one chooses this as a way of live. Who in their right would? Addiction is horrendous, degrading, humiliating, shameful and disgustingly powerful. With out help it is too much for us! Thanks for brightening my day with a wonderful, insightful post.

    Check out this recovery blog please loads of helpful recovery stuff:


  • AJ

    “Dick,” I am writing to compliment you on your blog. Unless I am missing something, it looks like you have not posted anything in a while. I hope that does not mean you are sitting in a bar somewhere. I recently came to your blog in trying to find my own solution. Your blog helped. The whole thing is a struggle. Perhaps we could chat off-line?

    • Dick

      AJ, I’m still here. Yes I haven’t posted in awhile but still sober and working the program. Busy with life, work, family, etc. I should probably get back to writing. Be happy to chat offline. Shoot me a direct message on twitter @soberlawyer:disqus

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