By Joseph Seuferling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student
“My name is (insert name here), and I’m an addict”. Chances are that you’ve never heard this introductory statement unless you’re a regular attendee of Narcotics Anonymous (N.A.) or Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) meetings. Such a blunt introduction is common practice for recovering addicts who participate in a 12-step recovery program. What might be a shocking introduction to most is actually an exercise in addiction recovery that facilitates acceptance of one’s addictive nature. Many practices of recovering addicts are difficult for society to understand, leading to various misconceptions.
A controversial concept, termed neurodiversity, aims to recognize neurological conditions, such as drug addiction or attention deficit disorder (ADD), as human variation rather than disease. This concept has created much debate, especially among those attempting to “cure” these conditions instead of emphasizing any strengths or weakness associated with them. Those battling with drug addiction are taught by society to hide the condition, rather than promote facing adversity and attaining sobriety. Many people with drug addiction are also diagnosed with other mental disorders, which is described as having comorbidity. If drug addiction is associated with various neurological conditions, then is our society completely missing the issue? Professionals continue treating symptoms of these conditions and ignore the holistic person.
At a younger age, I was given the opportunity through a high school program to participate in workshops with adults recovering from drug addiction. The workshops involved discussion of life challenges, and I listened to the remarkable stories of these unique individuals. The program opened my eyes to the diversity of each person I had met, the differences in how they continue to struggle every day of their lives with drug addiction. Though, most of the time drug addiction was not their only condition, they also suffered from depression, anxiety, chronic pain, autism, and ADD. Their homes, hobbies, work, romantic relationships, family, and overall livelihood are effected by their conditions. Yet, many them are successful in obtaining sobriety and control of their lives, be it through a 12-step program or through their own volition. There is no single pathway to success with a condition such as drug addiction.
Unless you have personally dealt with drug addiction, having empathy towards those with the condition is difficult. Imagine awaking in the morning, every single day, knowing that each of those 24 hours you will have thoughts and urges to use your drug of choice. The thoughts haunt you throughout the day, during lunch and dinner, and when lying in bed before sleep. Something people don’t understand is that after 5 years, 10 years, or even 20 years of sobriety these thoughts continue, a person does not magically become “cured” of their addiction or addictive thoughts. Now, let us add comorbidity to the mix with depression, anxiety, or ADD; every day your mind is filled with thoughts of drug use, while simultaneously you have the inherent inability to focus on important tasks. On top of this, you are maintaining a job, home, family, and relationships. Surprisingly, people successfully deal with such hardship, yet society wants them to hide their condition as if it’s an embarrassment and weakness.
Neurodiversity hopes to emphasize the strengths of these people who face such adversity. Why can’t a person with ADD become a pioneer in novel teaching methods? A person with drug addiction successful in teaching or leadership? With accomplishment under the will of such conditions, these people must also possess extremely impactful positive characteristics. As an analogy, a person without these conditions is driving a car with full tread tires, while people living with depression, anxiety, drug addictions, or ADD are driving on rims. Diverse neurological populations must compensate to level with others, a feat that neurodiversity aims to recognize.