The Face of Addiction

Many of you may have heard of Johnny Manziel, the Cleveland Browns quarterback who was their number one pick in the 2014 NFL draft.  Prior to being drafted, Manziel’s off the field issues with substance use and poor decision making were well chronicled prior to the draft.  Recently, Manziel checked himself into treatment for substance use.  At 22 years old you would think getting help for his substance use, being the number 1 draft pick, and a contract to play NFL football would be a bright future for Manziel.

Enter the world of the NFL.  There is another quarterback, Marcus Mariota, coming out of college that the Brown’s show interest.  The issue isn’t whether Mariota may be a better quarterback than Manziel, it’s what the Cleveland Brown organization said about Mariota that is of interest.  They stated, “”In light on what’s gone on with Manziel…there is a tremendous amount of fear for the future here and a very strong consideration of going and get somebody – especially Mariota, who they really like and they think would be a proper face for the franchise and a guy who is far more dependable than the guys that they’ve had there so far.”  Proper face of the franchise? That is basically saying that we do not want an alcoholic or drug addict’s face as our club’s poster boy. Something tells me that if Manziel had cancer or heart disease that phrase would not have been used. Why?

The why is easy to explain.  Addiction is still defined by the behavior and not the illness.  The symptoms of addiction are such, the wreckage to family, jobs, and friends leaves them feeling hurt, angry, resentful, and defeated.  Since we judge the behavior, we reinforce that addiction is willful.  The user meant to make those decisions that caused their current circumstance.  The addicted person hears phrases like, “why did you do that,” and “why don’t you just stop,” and my personal favorite, “you have so much potential.”   What if we said to a person who was diagnosed with cancer “why do you have cancer, can’t you just stop?” people would look at us like we were out of our mind.

You may say, Mike, you are comparing apples to oranges.  No.  I am comparing symptoms of two medical conditions.  Until the idea that the symptoms of addiction need to be treated like an illness and not willful behavior then our effectiveness in treating addiction will be limited.  Just because treatment may include behavioral change does not mean that addiction is behavior.  The type of behavior that is exhibited with many addicted individuals already has a diagnosis, Anti-Social Personality.  Experience tells us that when addiction is treated, the Anti Social behavior can be alleviated. I realize I am making some generalizations about Anti Social Personality and behavior, but if we rely on much of our experience, treating addiction brings about a change in a person not only in behavior, but in attitude, thought and spirituality.

The Cleveland Browns have a great opportunity to educate the rest of the NFL and our society.  Sadly, they are like many of us in today’s culture-they seem to be looking to either photo shop or replace his face.  Having been a recovering person for more than 26 years,if it’s all the same to you I will keep the face I have.

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