She was 29. She was 33 weeks pregnant. And she was dying. It was my job to tell this vibrant, supportive family that their beloved daughter, sister, aunt and friend would never wake from the blood leaking into her brain. She had fought so hard for so long (with incredible family support) but ultimately lost her battle with addiction.

As a physician, I see heartbreaking stories like this too often – great people with supportive families who can’t escape the path life has led them down and who end up hospitalized, sick and dying. In almost every case, I also hear murmurings of “they did this to themselves,” which saddens me because it is a clear misunderstanding of addiction.

Addiction is terrible. Call it a disease, a disorder, or something else, but please don’t call it “wrong” because it’s not a mark of character. People who struggle with addiction are just like you and me (and may be you or me). Physical changes within the brain make the body think that these substances are necessary, similar to the way our need for food causes physical hunger.

Addiction is a problem with the body, not with the person. We cannot keep seeing addiction as a personal failure because the shame we cause prevents those fighting it from seeking and getting the help they need. Addiction is terrible, but people who struggle with it are not. They’re just like you and me, and they need our help to overcome biology.

Ryan Best


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